Sports Team are back with their first release since June 2020’s debut album Deep Down Happy, setting their musical attacks to poignant new targets.
New single Happy (God’s Own Country), which dropped on Wednesday 21 April, can be best be described as two minutes and 30 seconds of raw energy, fizzing with anger from start to finish.
This time, the subject of the London-based six-piece’s ire is very clearly the prototypical Little Englander, and the politics of today allowing that character to flourish.
Released in the week of St George’s Day, the single combines some colourful lyrical ideas of Englishness with searing instrumentals to the effect of a sumptuous send-up.
In regards to the religious background of England’s national day, there are plenty of references, from the title itself to the final line: ‘I bet they hope those feet / In ancient times / Just kept on walking’.
Both are allusions to William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ – familiar territory for Sports Team after a bridge in ‘Here’s the Thing’, the band’s most successful single on Deep Down Happy, also repurposed Blake’s most famous poem.
Used in Happy, the intention seems to be to question how politicians – and perhaps the current Prime Minister – tussle between upholding Britain’s traditional faith and allowing a secularisation of society.
Naturally, this is all done with frontman Alex Rice’s trademark witticism and matador-like showmanship – particularly evident in the single’s accompanying video.
Transforming heavy ideas into a package of pop-culture references, self-deprecating humour and all-around fun, the band are elevating their music to a status of extremely relevant art in the production, shot by Bafta Award-winning director Georgina Cammalleri.
Paying homage to the iconic 1970s cult horror The Wicker Man, Rice takes on the role of Christopher Lee’s legendary Lord Summerisle, while keyboardist Ben Mack suffers the same fate of Edward Woodward’s Sargent Neil Howie – burnt at the stake while the rest of the band look on with a mixture of glee, horror and solemnity.
In such a dazzling array of images, it is easy to overlook the lyrical barbs flying around in the song.
A standout verse combines the mention of flat-pack furniture, Neo-Fascism, polished granite kitchen surfaces and the Margate property market.
Not only this, but it also seems to make a point about the government’s failure to secure a future for live acts touring in the European Union:
‘Economists with bedside manners / Tax return, pop killer batches’
It is hardly surprising that this would be among the band’s biggest frustrations with the current state of affairs in the UK – they have been vocal critics of measures that have not adequately protected the arts.
As Cambridge University graduates – indeed, it was where they met and formed – Sports Team are not necessarily the band you would first expect to stand up and voice their opinion.
Indeed, from their relatively privileged educational position, they sit in the interesting position of being beneficiaries of the UK’s class system as well as commentators on it.
Their willingness to discuss these issues is encouraging not just for their social position, but also for the genre in which they operate.
British indie rock, historically a playground for the sharpest satire and anti-establishment polemics, had undoubtedly lost its way in recent decades.
That was until Sports Team arrived on the crest of a thoroughly entertaining wave.
Black Country, New Road, blackmidi, Fontaines D.C., IDLES, Squid and Nottingham’s own Do Nothing are just some of the new leaders of the genre, bouncing ideas off one another with each release to outstanding effect.
What these bands offer, especially in these trying times, is crucial.
Few artists can mock those in power with an anthemic chart-topping chorus. Happy’s three-line crescendo, a take-down seemingly of leading politicians in the COVID-19 crisis, bucks that trend:
‘So do what I say / Not what I do / Blood on their hands does not run blue’
Sports Team bring their energy and anger to Nottingham later this year, headlining Dot to Dot Festival on Sunday 26 September before also performing at Rock City on Wednesday 17 November.
Those performances should follow the release of a much-anticipated sophomore album, and promise to be unmissable events that mark the return of live gigging with a bang.
It ought to be a fascinating time, and Sports Team are the perfect artists to fill the void that we’ve had.
I for one can’t wait.
Feature Image Credit: Island Records, Bright Antenna Records