Review Summary: Gone totally is the bad-boy image, and a new frat-guy sweetness takes over (they even have the chance to say "ass" in one song and
choose to bleep it instead).
Produced by the band, Sports opens with what will probably become their signature song, "The Heart of Rock 'n Roll," a loving ode to rock 'n' roll all over the United States. It's followed by "Heart and Soul," their first big single, which is a trademark Lewis song (though it's written by outsiders Michael Chapman and Nicky Chinn) and the tune that firmly and forever established them as the premier rock band in the country for the 1980s. If the lyrics aren't quite up to par with other songs, most of them are more than serviceable and the whole thing is a jaunty enterprise about what a mistake one-night stands are (a message the earlier, rowdier Huey would never have made). "Bad Is Bad," written solely by Lewis, is the bluesiest song the band had recorded up to this point and Mario Cipollina's bass playing gets to shine on it, but it's really Huey's harmonica solos that give it an edge. "I Want a New Drug," with its killer guitar riff (courtesy of Chris Hayes), is the album's centerpiece – not only is it the greatest antidrug song ever written, it's also a personal statement about how the band has grown up, shucked off their bad-boy image and learned to become more adult. Hayes' solo on it is incredible and the drum machine used, but not credited, gives not only "I Want a New Drug" but most of the album a more consistent backbeat than any of the previous albums – even though Bill Gibson is still a welcome presence.
The rest of the album whizzes by flawlessly – side two opens with their most searing statement yet: "Walking on a Thin Line," and no one, not even Bruce Springsteen, has written as devastatingly about the plight of the Vietnam vet in modern society. This song, though written by outsiders, shows a social awareness that was new to the band and proved to anyone who ever doubted it that the band, apart from its blues background, had a heart. And again in "Finally Found a Home" the band proclaims its newfound sophistication with this paean to growing up. And though at the same time it's about shedding their rebel image, it's also about how they "found themselves" in the passion and energy of rock 'n' roll. In fact the song works on so many levels it's almost too complex for the album to carry, though it never loses its beat and it still has Sean Hopper's ringing keyboards, which make it danceable. "If This Is It" is the album's one
ballad, but it's not downbeat. It's a plea for a lover to tell another lover if they want to carry on with the relationship, and the way Huey sings it (arguably the most superb vocal on the album), it becomes instilled with hope. Again, this song – as with the rest of the album – isn't about chasing or longing after girls, it's about dealing with relationships. "Crack Me Up" is the album's only hint at a throwback to the band's New
Wave days and it's minor but amusing, though its antidrinking, antidrug, pro-growingup statement isn't.
And as a lovely ending to an altogether remarkable album, the band does a version of "Honky Tonk Blues" (another song written by someone not in the band, named Hank Williams), and even though it's a very different type of song, you can feel its presence throughout the rest of the album. For all its professional sheen, the album has the integrity of honky-tonk blues. (Aside: During this period Huey also recorded two songs for the movie Back to the Future, which both went Number One, "The Power of Love" and "Back in Time," delightful extras, not footnotes, in what has been shaping up into a legendary career.) What to say to Sports dissenters in the long run? Nine million people cant be wrong.