Sam Fender’s second album Seventeen Going Under has a lot to live up to. From the soaring heights of the debut’s title track Hypersonic Missiles to the real groove of The Borders, the album was virtually perfect. So, how does Fender’s new record compare?
With this one, we’ve had time to warm up. The lead single, where Seventeen Going Under gets its name from, was incredibly well-received. A guitar-led crescendo against the Department for Work and Pensions and their treatment of disabled people, based on Fender and his mother’s own experiences.
It set the tone for the rest of the album: helplessness, loss and, by the end, hope.
The stand-out from Seventeen Going Under is The Dying Light – a follow-on from Hypersonic Missiles‘ Dead Boys. The original track discussed the horrifically high male suicide rate across the North East of England in particular, painting a (truthfully) bleak picture of it all.
Recommended Reading: Song Review – ‘Seventeen Going Under’
This time, The Dying Light offers just that: light. Light as hope, light as gratitude. Sam Fender has been very open and honest about his own suicidal ideation in the past, and when the song talks about the “dead boys” this time around, they’re the reason Fender (and many others listening) have decided to stay.
Led by piano before a total upbeat tempo change, Fender sings: “Maybe I could use a hand/ I must admit I’m out of bright ideas to keep the hell at bay”. The profoundness of admitting you need help is encapsulated in just two verses, and it is incredibly powerful.
He goes on to sing: “But I’m damnеd if I give up tonight/ I must repel thе dying light/ For Mam and Dad and all my pals/ For all the ones who didn’t make the night”. Enough said.
Other tracks on the album offer a more classic Hypersonic Missiles approach, which is good to have. That sound is uniquely Fender’s, based on Springsteen, and it works. Get You Down is the song which retains the old Fender magic, Spit of You – with the music video starring Stephen Graham – also captures the purity of the debut.
Good Company, however, is a totally new concept for Fender. It is intensely personal – just one man and his guitar – singing about his own feelings and behaviours. We get an insight here into what it’s like being in the North Shields star’s head. “Every time it’s you that gets the worst,” offers a lot of food for thought on his treatment of those closest to him.
Similarly, Better of Me offers further introspection. It is unusual to hear this from Fender, with the subjects of his songs usually being other people – typically, the people of the North East. This is more of a love song, in a strange kind of way, following the theme of The Dying Light and Seventeen Going Under. Fender goes from hating and envying a love interest’s happy family to realising how beautiful they are.
Hope is the theme of this record, even when the dire circumstances surrounding Fender, and those he made the album for, exist.
Mantra and Pretending That You’re Dead offer a particularly Bruce Springsteen-esque sound; with The Leveller replicating similar sounds to that of The Borders, alongside classic Fender politics.
One of the best songs on the album is Paradigms, offering a smash-hit resistance to essentially the society we live in. “Sometimes I wanna die,” and “they gave you bulimia,” seem to be obviously about toxic attitudes. “No one should feel like this,” however, is the fitting conclusion from Fender.
Angel in Lothian – complete with harmonica – is another nod-your-head tune, up there with the others. Getting Started and Poltergeists are too. But the likes of Last To Make It Home and Long Way Off – though perfectly good songs to listen to – lack the spark we heard on Hypersonic Missiles.
It is because this album is so different in content to the previous that a bit of the Fender charm has been lost. However, I’m sure if he’d written exclusively about the North East again, there’d be complaints too.
The complete picture of Seventeen Going Under is that it is an authentic, smooth album with undercurrents of Fender’s home region running through it. It’s more subtle this time (except in the song Aye and other B-side tracks released by Fender like Howden Aldi Death Queue) and that’s okay.
Seventeen Going Under is the kind of album that grows on you the more you listen. So, for that reason, in a few months, my rating might just increase.