Indie bangers paired with heart-breaking and observant lyricism, offering commentary on the themes that you should be caring about in the 21st Century.
Photo credit: Press
One of my favourite albums of 2019 was Hypersonic Missiles, the debut album from Geordie singer-songwriter, Sam Fender, that went straight to number one and has remained one of my firm favourites ever since. As a result, I’ve admittedly been sceptical as to whether or not Fender would be able to top that album, and pull off a sophomore record that doesn’t suffer from the infamous second album slumber.
However, it only takes me the first two tracks to realise that I’ve been completely stupid, because of course he was going to pull it off.
The eleven-track project begins with lead single and title track, Seventeen Going Under, a tune that consists of a really catchy acoustic guitar riff and soaring vocals that ultimately lead up to a resonant saxophone solo, because what would be more Sam Fender-esque than that? Both this opening track, alongside the album as a whole body of work, have a real coming of age narration, depicting the transition into adulthood. With this in mind, Seventeen Going Under sounds so much more mature than its predecessor, especially because it focuses more on Fender and his personal battles than the previous album did, and is less of a commentary on the news of the time, adding a new depth to his song-writing on the whole.
Although, this does not mean that there is a lack of politically-motivated tracks within this album; both Aye and Long Way Off are tunes that sonically are really angry and stomping, in a similar way to tracks such as White Privilege and Play God that came before them, yet they have a more mature undertone to them, which is emphasised through the plucking string section that you can faintly hear behind the guitars and drums.
I don’t want to keep leading things back to the debut, but I’m genuinely impressed by how it doesn’t seem that Sam has just dropped everything that he did on the first album and gone off in a completely different musical direction, nor does it seem he is recycling new ideas, but I love how Get You Down sounds like a continuation of The Borders, especially as a result of its vivid storytelling and exploration of insecurity and self-esteem. This is a much more indie/alternative sounding tune, and sounds upbeat and cathartic, however it's equally as heart-breaking.
Another overarching theme that has been developed across the running time of the album is Fender’s relationship with both of his parents, with Spit Of You exploring Fender’s relationship with his Dad and their bond. Whilst it’s got a really catchy, bright and reverbed up guitar riff; just like some of the album’s previous tracks, it’s also incredibly moving. A good example of this is the segment of the song where Fender reminisces the death of his paternal grandmother, and the line that follows manages to give me goosebumps every single time: “‘Cause one day that’ll be your forehead I’m kissin’/And I’ll still look exactly like you.”
Last To Make It Home is also particularly thematic, beginning by looking at religion, more specifically the Virgin Mary (“Mary, what looks like a mirage”), which Fender said, in conversation with Apple Music, is about him “realising I need to get ahold of myself.” Later in the song, Mary is personified and she becomes a girl online, allowing Sam to develop a narration on social media and the effect that it has on modern day society (“Hit the ‘like’/In the hopes I’d coax you out of my derelict fantasy”). Sonically, it’s another atmospheric number, however, the consecutive track, The Leveller, completely interrupts the calm, replacing it with a quick paced indie banger. The interlude consists of “woah”ing, which I can already hear the festival and arena crowds singing along to at the very top of their lungs, as strobe lighting pulses into the pit. It really is the mosh pit induced song of the album, and I’m craving the live scenes already.
Both Mantra and Paradigm appear to be incredibly personal and vulnerable moments within the album, for the most part as a result of the commentary on Sam’s innermost thoughts and feelings. I also found that I was moved by the choir of people, whom after some research I found to be those who Sam knows from his hometown of North Shields, all singing in unison “No-one should ever feel like this”, giving a powerful and really quite beautiful moment on the album. It’s like a roundup of all of the themes that have been touched on across the 45 minutes, and feels like the big finish, just before the softer closing track of The Dying Light; a song that every time I’ve reached it, I’ve been genuinely moved by both its atmospheric and musical aspects, but also the lyrical content. Primarily, it’s a piano led ballad, written from the perspective of someone who is contemplating the end of their life, however, as it builds up to a crescendo, it leads to the narrator’s turn around and prevention of this act. It feels as though it would be a lazy comparison to say it’s a continuation to Sam’s hit single Dead Boys, and then leave it at that, however, it does appear to be some form of loose follow up, at the very least. I think this might be the most beautiful song I’ve listened to this year (and I discovered “Fade Into You by Mazzy Star in 2021), particularly because I feel the hairs on my arms stand on end, just at the thought of the closing line: “For Mam and Dad and all my pals/For all the ones who didn’t make the night” (typing that has led to shivers, by the way). It’s a beautiful, beautiful end to such a powerful album.
Throw any expectations that you have for Sam Fender’s album out of the window, because it’s difficult to put into words how extraordinary this collection of songs is. Track two may have stated that Sam is “only getting started”, but I can’t help but think that if this is only the beginning, my tiny mind is probably going to be blown further by the next instalment from Sam Fender.