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MEDIA: Reviews: The Sports

The Sports

from The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983, United States); edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson

The Sports belong to that generation of musicians who grew up immersed in the great pop and soul music of the Sixties, and their songs reflect those traditions while avoiding direct imitation. Some of the best of those tracks can be found on the 1979 U.S. Arista release Don't Throw Stones - the ballad "Reckless", for instance, or "Mailed It to Your Sister", which has an R&B tinge recalling the band's origins in Melbourne as a good-timey, funny, rockabilly-flavored dance band (a phase that's best reflected in the 1978 Australian album Don't Throw Stones). Also included is "Who Listens to the Radio", the Sport's one successful U.S single.

Steve Cummings is an excellent singer and his distinctive phrasing and delivery make him arguably the finest vocalist Australian rock & roll has produced. Cummings' is the essential sensibility behind the Sports, and his songs on the early records idiosyncratically evoke suburban pop culture, peopled by charcters reading True Confessions or detective novels, or doing their homework with the TV on. You get the impression that Cummings' songs would find their spiritual home in suburban kitchens with formica-top tables and in teenage bedrooms with posters on the wall of the kids who made Sixties hits of songs like Jackie de Shannon's "When You Walk In The Room" and the Easybeats' "Wedding Ring", the two non original songs covered on the Sports albums.

Several of the songs originally released on Reckless were re-recorded for U.S. release on Don't Throw Stones. In the intervening period guitarist Martin Armiger had replaced the rockabilly influenced Ed Bates, and his sharp and lucid playing gave a harder edge to the band's sound, complementing Andrew Pendlebury's sweeter, more lyrical guitar work.

Armiger also brought a more contemporary approach to the Sports songwriting, though a number of his songs, such as the disturbing "Hit Single" and "Terror Hits", were omitted from the U.S releases.

The concerns of the later albums tend to be rather darker, and the music becomes increasingly complex-the good humor seems to have been exchanged for greater sophistication, with varying results.. At its best this trade-off produced great pop like Suddenly's "Strangers on a Train" and "Blue Hearts" or the somber and affecting "Go" from the same record, and "Softly Softly" and "Face the Tiger" from Sondra.

But at times on these albums the Sports seem to be pursuing more mainstream pop forms, and can be accused at some times of blandness and at others of forced cheerfulness. The band's best records, Don't Throw Stones and Suddenly, produced by Englishman, Pete Solley, were remixed for release in the U.S. Unfortunately they've been deleted from Arista's catalogue, but they can still be found in the bargain bins of many American record stores.


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