Exploring his own internal identity crisis, Sam Fender’s Seventeen Going Under showcases insecurity, socio-political confusion and imposter syndrome against a whirling background of Americana rock
The immediate question with the Geordie star’s second full-length release is: can he follow up the dazzling heights of 2019’s Hypersonic Missiles? With a record that is both more focused and expansive, Sam Fender has gone above and beyond his promises to deliver further tunes akin to previous hit, ‘The Borders’. As Sam himself expresses, “it’s fucking leagues ahead of the first one.”
With the roaring title track opening the album, Sam reflects on his past and how it has informed his development into the 27-year-old he has now become. “I armed myself with a grin / ‘Cause I was always the fuckin’ joker” he spits, summoning intense regret and nostalgia hand in hand to form a cathartic belter that has already garnered fan support back on the live stage.
‘Getting Started’ builds the jangling momentum that will continue to shine across the LP, before ‘Aye’ bottles the anger of a lost generation and sets the tone for much of the commentary to follow. Sam defines the voice of millennials struggling to maintain their own identity in a sharp and confusing world (“I’m not a fucking anything or anyone!”); an evolution and mutation of previous album track ‘White Privilege’, this is a clear example of his songwriting skills growing into a new form entirely.
An analysis of his own failures is embodied within ‘Get You Down’, a cathartic reveal of straining insecurities riled up by the blasting notes of Johnny ‘Bluehat’ Davis’ distinguished saxophone performance. Despite such self-aware acknowledgements moving to the forefront this time around, Fender is certainly still able to acknowledge a flawed world and manifest beautiful art from its impact – “I never was the silent type”, he states on ‘Long Way Off’ while moodily pointing out the upwards trajectory of change that is still much needed.
There is still time for some softer moments too, with ‘Spit Of You’ providing the first of these with a new style of love song: “I can talk to anyone, I can’t talk to you” Sam speaks to his father against twirling riffs and steady percussion, utilising some howling vocals to reveal a guilty lack of vulnerability that few songwriters could or would put into song, never mind being able to do so with such grace and appeal.
Seventeen Going Under flows seamlessly onward, with moments like the pounding confusion of ‘The Leveller’ and the cautious fusion of joy in ‘Mantra’ expanding a mature discography before the two closing tracks end the journey with an explosive euphoria. ‘Paradigms’ unleashes a chorus bound to hit home, repeating “it breaks you up all the time” and ending moving into the loud declaration of “no one should feel like this”; another example of Sam continuing his focus on major cultural issues in his hometown, just in a more subtle yet concentrated manner.
Speaking of North Shields, ‘Dying Light’ proves that he cannot escape his past (“I’m always here even though I’m physically not”), a theme present from start to finish. The ultimate finale here is an explosion of audible colour – it is easy to envision fireworks going off for the swelling instrumental during a future headlining festival set. Pure sonic elation, this track realises everything Sam Fender is about in 2021, with his own conclusion being: “it’s a celebration of life after hardship, it’s a celebration of surviving.”
An inward-facing expedition, Seventeen Going Under explores a side of himself that Sam has previously avoided, trying not to come across as a “miserable cunt” – this self-analysis has proved vital and urgent, a silver lining to the dominating cloud that has entrapped us all this past year or so. It brings with it an inspiring masterpiece that proves one thing to those grafting open mic sessions and laying their heart on the table: music will always prevail. With a fine record Sam Fender can be more than proud of under his belt and the big apple on the horizon, the future is unwritten and yet entirely in his hands.
Sam Fender’s Seventeen Going Under is out October 8th via Polydor Records and is available to pre-order and pre-save now.