Skint & Demoralised is the kind of name that’d lay you in expectation for an album of dreary odes to a broken Britain, as they’re so fond of these days. But while This Sporting Life, the second album from the former Mercury-signed performance poet Matt Abbott, is certainly full of honest depictions of life and its many sins, it never once loses its sense of optimism and cheeky glass-half-full spirit.
Drawing its inspiration from British New Wave cinema of the 60s, much of This Sporting Life sounds like a speculative stab at what the Jam might be like if they were still young twenty somethings carrying on today. There’s touches of more contemporary influences too though, flavours of Libertines in the casual stroll of tuneful shuffling ditties.
At its heart, This Sporting Life is inoffensive indie, but there’s also a surprising degree of pop sensibility to tracks like Hogmany Heroes and All The Rest is Propaganda - a clear awareness of the merits of a good hook.
Tracks like 43 Degrees - ‘I’m sick to death of England...’ - sound like cousins to The Enemy, tales of provincial towns, dreary days and exciting nights. The guitar-work feels vital, keen, alive. Meanwhile, Maria, Full of Grace sounds like a Mardy Bum for 2012, an accented domestic tale possessed of a cheery sense of Northern wit.
As Abbott’s second album, it feels like a considered effort – one enlivened by the knowledge of the industry and life itself. Wisdom comes with age, they say – and This Sporting Life feels like a wise album. It’s street-smart, rough and ready, always knowing with its stories of lives on gritty streets. Voluntary Confinement is a definite mid-LP highlight, working in a lattice of lovely flanged Smiths-esque guitar.
It’s a recapturing of the past, a This Is England style revision of a lost nation, offering one last glimpse at the world we thought we knew. It finds its twin in album closer Lowlife, the best track on the record; a fiery slow-fast combo that affirms the praise levelled at Skint & Demoralised from all corners of the music press.
‘I am a chatty bugger...’ boasts Abbott on The Lonely Hearts of England, and chatty he is indeed – the lyrics throughout the album flow like an engorged river – if anything, Skint & Demoralised is as much the lad everyone wants a pint with down the local as it is a musical project.
Right now, the indie scene is eagerly looking for successors to the Arctic Monkeys’ throne – the Vaccines were almost there, almost the right kind of band to step up and accept the gauntlet. But not quite... Could it be Skint & Demoralised? Maybe, just maybe...
This Sporting Life is released on the 12th March, preceded by the single All The Rest Is Propaganda on the 5th.