Sports Team review, Gulp! – Rambunctious, alt-pop pick’n’mix

·2-min read
In good spirits: British band Sports Team (Lauren Maccabee)
In good spirits: British band Sports Team (Lauren Maccabee)

As anyone who failed to get within hearing distance of Wolf Alice at Reading 2022 will tell you, alternative rock is having a moment (again). Key to the acclaim and success in this new wave, which should really be called all-wave, is to encompass a wide variety of indie and pop styles past and present, thereby befuddling the almighty algorithm into recommending you to everyone.

Which makes London’s Sports Team the natural successors to Wolf Alice. A fiercely ambitious bunch – they booked an early gig at the Scala back when their entire social media following combined wouldn’t have filled the place, but still sold it out – their shows are colourful affairs, often involving costume box outfits, hand-painted cardboard cats and coach trips to Margate. Their music is just as unpredictable. Debut album Deep Down Happy hit No 2 in 2020 on the strength of a smorgasbord of quirky, quickfire songs running the gamut of Nineties and Noughties indie pop – as much Pavement and Parquet Courts as Franz Ferdinand and Blur – exploring topics ranging from fishing with friends to Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s marriage.

Second album Gulp! broadens the remit even further, with some startling results. Opener “The Game” is glam rock’n’roll gone feral, “Dig” a motoric merger of The Stooges and The Dandy Warhols. Both “The Drop” and “Cool It Kid” lace Blur’s grunge era with a Berlin Bowie post-punk edge, while “R Entertainment” leans further into new wave to update Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” for the synth-rock age. There’s Cramps-indebted swamp rock (“Unstuck”), pirate punk (“Kool Aid”), Dexy’s folk pop (“Getting Better”) and even a finale of wistful indie-rock bombast caught somewhere between Eels, The Cure, and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci on “Light Industry”. Happy hour at the all-you-can-eat alt-rock buffet is clearly open.

Yet to shake the Eddie Argos from his voice, singer Alex Rice still favours the occasional comedic aside. “The Drop”, for instance, asks the question “why won’t you dance with me? Is it the tie?” – but the album’s themes suggest weightier concerns creeping in. “Life’s hard but I can’t complain,” Rice sings on ‘The Game”, and that’s pretty much as optimistic as it gets. “Dig” decries drowning your troubles in alcohol; “R Entertainment” laments the anxieties of the social media age; “Kool Aid” tackles the prevalence of conspiracy theories. “Getting Better” is as happy-clappy as it’s possible to be when faced with a godless death (“It’s only getting better ‘til it starts off getting worse, and they put you in the garden under six old feet of dirt”). “Fingers” details a full-on clatter punk apocalypse. There’s no brow-beating to it though – it’s all delivered rambunctiously enough that it’s easy to simply enjoy Gulp! as the alt-pop pick’n’mix it is. Go gorge.