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Review: Sam Fender - Seventeen Going Under

By James Magee, First year Politics and Spanish

“Top tier”. This was the text I received from my flatmate on Friday morning after she’d finished listening to Sam Fender’s sophomore effort, Seventeen Going Under (2021). I was skeptical at first as I thought it was a very quick judgement, but the fact it’s landed straight to number one on the albums chart suggests that she was right.

We’d both been on tenterhooks waiting for the album to drop, having discovered our mutual obsession with the music of the Geordie Springsteen – as the singer is lovingly labelled by his fans. It’s also apparent, having spoken to other students at uni, that his support among our age group is already strong, and that’s no surprise given some of the ballads that featured on his debut album Hypersonic Missiles (2019). This upbeat sound returns in his follow-up, but what sets it apart from Fender’s debut is the emotional heft of the lyrics.

Fender’s way with words has always been at the forefront of his appeal – after all, people don’t name you after one of the greatest songwriters of their generation for no reason. His debut LP dealt with issues faced by young people in today’s society, taking aim at politicians and corporations for the mess they’ve made of the world.

This album, however, is much more introspective, with the 27-year-old turning the camera on himself. He’s revealed in interviews that lockdown forced him to stop drawing inspiration from others and to start looking within himself. He also puts this down to the therapy sessions he recently undertook, saying they’ve forced him to reflect on his relationships and experiences from his formative years. The result of the juxtaposition between vibrant music and the somber lyrics is that none of these new songs are instant sing-alongs, but rather a series of terrific tunes that you can gradually fall in love with as the significance of the words sink in.

The title track, which opens the album, introduces themes about the finite nature of youth as well as the complexity of growing up and these ideas are central throughout the entire album. He also touches on his strained bond with his dad on latest single, ‘Spit of You’, the video for which stars BAFTA-nominated Line of Duty actor Stephen Graham. He also tackles the issue of male suicide on ‘The Dying Light’, another problem close to his heart after suffering the tragic loss of multiple friends to mental illness in recent years.

All of the above just scratches the surface of the personal feelings explored in this record. That said, there’s still plenty to capture the ears of casual listeners and enough catchy choruses for the crowds to belt out at festivals. Yet, the devil is in the detail, and it’s here that you can appreciate the hard work that Fender has put in to crafting a piece of work during the pandemic that feels much more like an album - as opposed to just a collection of songs - than its predecessor. This is what makes it all the more enjoyable for his diehard followers. Top tier, indeed.

Featured image: Polydor

What do you think of the new Sam Fender album?