Over the last few years, there has been a swath of singer-songwriters produced by Britain with almost an identical vanilla image and even more of a bland image. When Sam Fender first emerged, you’d be forgiven for writing him off with the others, but in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The North Shields singer is flanked by his tight-knit six-piece band who masterfully illuminates his gritty sound, and together, they are a deadly combination. His heart on his sleeve debut, Hypersonic Missiles, rightly won him accolades, as well as an army of fans. However, Seventeen Going Under sees Fender elevate himself on every level. Second album syndrome? That’s a phrase that doesn’t exist in his lexicon.
With lockdown striking mere months after the release of his first album, Fender was unable to retell anecdotes from his life as it was put on pause and instead used his teenage years to fuel Seventeen Going Under. It’s vulnerable, raw, and a brutally honest recount of his formative years.
After the success of his debut, the predictable move for Fender would have been to adopt poppier production for his sophomore effort, yet, he’s stayed loyally to the anthemic rock sound, which he’s made his forte. The title track sets the tone for the record, and across 11 songs, Fender explores his identity with rare nuance.
While his distinct sonic blend is reminiscent of the past, what makes Fender a vital artist for this era is that his lyrics are relevant as of now. ‘Aye’ sees him deal with his frustrations at the current political landscape in what is his most pissed-off song to date.
On the chorus, he sings, “Poor hate the poor, Hate the poor,” later adding, “It’s a blame game, it’s a fame trap,” and, “And the woke kids are just dickheads, And the dickheads are all ages.”
Fender is left-leaning, recently discussing his sheer hatred for the Tories. However, his issues are with the constant cuts to public services, rather than engaging in a quasi-culture war played out by culprits on both sides. It’s a refreshing voice, which reflects my personal opinion, but one that you seldom hear from musicians in 2021.
Elsewhere, on ‘Paradigms’, Fender takes aim at the toxic effects of Instagram culture, as he bellows, “Every image of perfection starts a goldmine, They gave you bulimia, those marketing masterminds.”
While he’s not afraid of offering social commentary, it’s when Fender gets personal that his light shines the brightest. ‘Spit Of You’ deals with his complicated relationship with his father. Despite not being idyllic, the new song recognises their similarities rather than highlighting their differences, even if the traits they share are less than desirable ones. It’s impossible not to feel every textured emotion that Fender packs into the track.
Male suicide is an avoidable cancer that is tragically rife in our society, and like many of us, it’s a topic close to Fender’s heart. He previously wrote about the subject on ‘Dead Boys’ and returns to it on the closing track, ‘The Dying Light’, where we find the 27-year-old at his most defenceless, as he lets his guard drop to the floor.
He heartbreakingly sings, “But I’m alone here, Even though I’m physically not, And those dead boys are always there, There’s more every year,” before later evocatively adding, “I must repel thе dying light, For Mam and Dad and all my pals, For all the ones who didn’t make the night.”
Sam Fender is an artist that Britain needs right now. He’s got a relatability to him, which gives him an authentic touch and immense likeability. When most musicians deal with the topics that Fender expertly delves into, it often has a habit of feeling contrived or riddled with cliches. However, he’s not like most artists, and on Seventeen Going Under, he stakes a claim for being the most pivotal British voice of his generation.
Seventeen Going Under is out now on Polydor. For details, and tickets to his upcoming 2022 UK tour, visit here.