Sam Fender's Seventeen Going Under is here and it shows that Fender is sticking with his indie roots but steps somewhat out of his comfort zone to make a genuinely engaging listen.
This morning Sam Fender turned up to BBC breakfast with a raging hangover, having just been out celebrating the take-over of his hometown club Newcastle United, and if this doesn't perfectly summarise him as a music artist, then nothing else will
Sam Fender is just like any other guy but in the best way possible. Fender is a normal 20-something from North Shields in the north of England, which is important context to a huge amount of his music. There's a trend of young men from the north of England creating music that really embraces their home and being successful with it, like Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys. People like hearing something they can relate to, something that doesn't feel a million miles from their own experiences, and that's where Fender really succeeds, especially on Seventeen Going Under.
The title track opens up and shows exactly the direction Fender is going in with his newest project, telling the tale of how difficult life was as a teenager and certainly not hiding behind anything to show it with all too real lyrics like "See I spent my teens enraged / Spiraling in silence And I armed myself with a grin", all on top of a classic feeling indie-rock guitar.
Fender keeps his anthemic feel across Seventeen Going Under, but the lyrical content feels a bit more bleak, which is unsurprising given the last two years. The rose-tinted glasses are off, and it finally reveals a far more desolate and lonely outlook.
One song in which we really see the world shown for what it is is 'Aye'. The song acts as a commentary on the rich and powerful treating the poor and vulnerable like dirt, and actually ends with Fender having a borderline existential crisis of his own. Calling out the world's most powerful for not addressing problems like Epstein, Hollywood whitewashing, and bombings of a variety of places for a variety of reasons. All of this said over an upbeat almost pop-punk beat and instrumental feels slightly disjointed but somehow it works.
Throughout Seventeen Going Under, it's not just the lyrical content that goes into unusual territory, but the use of production and instruments too. Saxophones can be found on multiple songs, and tracks just generally feel bigger and braver than on previous releases. The timeless 'Last To Make It Home' already feels like a modern classic: that being that you can imagine it being sung with your friends in the pub when you're way too many deep.
However, the album does certainly still have its quieter moments which allow Fender's gut-wrenching words and vocals to punch through the bravado. 'Poltergeist' is simply backed by a single piano and acts as a stunning closer for an album all about finding your way through the difficult hand life can give, and admitting you might not have made it exactly easy for yourself either. Fender knows he's not perfect, but is he really trying to be?
It seems that through Seventeen Going Under, this generation of working-class North finally has a real spokesperson, and for that reason, it's unlikely Sam Fender is going anywhere anytime soon.