Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under review: the work of an exceptional young British songwriter – Guitar.com
Barely two years ago, first album Hypersonic missiles heralded Sam Fender as the rarest of talent – a stellar young British guitarist who addressed a modern pop audience while channeling his classic rock idols and expressing the fear and fury of the British working class. He did all of this without straying into the realm of righteous and relentless social commentary, and his popularity skyrocketed.
The facts spoke for themselves. This debut album moved to nearly 50,000 copies in one week, reaching number one on the charts, picking up a BRIT Award and winning slots for Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Liam Gallagher. Lazy critics began to whip up the tag “great white hope for British guitar pop”.
Not that life was easy for the 27-year-old, who fearlessly recounted the tragic epidemic of youth suicide, toxic masculinity and the crippling effects of poverty on Hypersonic missiles. He confessed to his own mental health issues during the lockdown, and the solution to a year of Covid protection was to look inward for inspiration on his second album.
While Seventeen in progress isn’t a big evolutionary leap sonically – those rocky, soaring blue-collar anthems will again draw inevitable comparisons to his hero Bruce Springsteen – Fender’s writing is much more nuanced as he probes the pain and the pride of his education in North Shields.
“This album is a coming-of-age story,” says an artist who struggled with self-doubt and impostor syndrome throughout his nascent career. “It’s a celebration of life after hardship, a celebration of survival. I think he is miles ahead of the first.
It’s hard to argue. The celebration begins with the clatter of the bridge and the merry “wooah-ooahs” of the outstanding title song, the luminous musical landscape contrasting with the images Fender etched from his teenage years: “fist fights on the beach” and “drenched”. in a cheap drink ”, his teenage rage“ spinning in silence ”.
To start is based on the same engine The War On Drugs acquired, the emotional power of Fender’s voice reminiscent of Brandon Flowers’ exploration of small-town American life on The Killers Pressure machine album. It’s radiant and hopeful, the rich chords framing Fender’s teenage desperation to help his mother, “stunned by letters and board scams.” It merges into a brief and tantalizing celestial lyric solo coda, reminding us that Geordie, the Jazzmaster-toting, is not just a sharp observational writer, but a pretty handy guitarist to boot.
There are also times when it broadens its scope to speak out against global injustices. Aye is extraordinary. A nervous one-note riff recedes as Fender’s attention shifts from the assassinations of Lennon and Kennedy to the sickening abuse of Jeffrey Epstein and the atomic bombs that fall on Japan. Finally, he lands on the current shit storm in Britain, where abandoned working-class communities are being courted by populist politicians. “I am no longer a fucking liberal, I am no longer a fucking nobody or anything,” he rages, returning to the theme of the cutscene. Very far away, orchestral ornaments rising to the sky as he sings “I have heard a hundred million voices sounding the same, left and right.”
Johnny ‘Bluehat’ Davis once again channels Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons, providing spirited accompaniment to Get you down, as Fender’s insistent chords and graceful strings come together to elevate a soulful chorus specially crafted for festivals. Spit from you is emotionally raw, sounding 12-string arpeggios, expressive saxophone lines and a scintillating mandolin joining Fender as he describes his inability to speak to his father. Watching his old man die of his grandmother, he reflects “one day it will be your forehead that I will kiss”.
On the majestic, led by the piano Last to come home, Fender sees an appearance of “sparkling silver in sunken eyes” before seeing his own image, “ungodly and destroyed.” It’s a lavish, painful tale, and when the guitar solo is finally unleashed, teetering on the verge of molten feedback, it’s sparkling. The leveler is pushed to an equally exhilarating conclusion, screaming bends creeping up the fretboard, Fender an icon for the discontented as he urges “don’t let him get you / fall into the quagmire”.
On the final track The dying light, Fender revisits the heartbreaking sadness of Dead boys from her debut album, battling her own suicidal thoughts. He appears to be over 27, borrowing from The Boss as he laments that “this city is a world of abandonment and vagabonds, comedy giants, penniless heroes.” The austere monochrome scene evaporates as the song swivels and becomes triumphant, the band embark on a catchy outro, and Fender finds beauty as he roars: “I’m damned if I give up tonight, I have to push it back.” dying light. For mom and dad, all my friends, For all those who haven’t been at night ”.
For him to end with such defiant optimism after having laid bare his soul so exhaustively is admirable. Sam Fender’s second album finds him singing “Trying To Be Better” before admitting “I fall at every obstacle.” Well, not this time, he didn’t. Seventeen in progress is a collection of superbly written and brutally honest songs that will only elevate its growing status.
that of Sam Fender Seventeen in progress is out now.