Sam Fender provides authentically honest lyricism in his second studio album, through softly spoken ballads and divinely distinctive vocals
Sam Fender‘s second studio album Seventeen Going Under takes us on a personal and recollective journey through his teenage and early adolescent years, encompassing themes of poverty, suicide and romance in a brutally honest and raw way.
Sixteen total songs can be devoured from this album, with five of those being additional tracks, which have been added to the original eleven via a deluxe version. Having previously reviewed three of the sixteen songs available on the deluxe version of the album, it would be only be fitting for me to provide a track-by-track review of the remaining songs, following the album’s launch today – October 8th 2021.
‘Seventeen Going Under’
Chosen as the opening track, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ – with the same entitlement as the album – provides a concise lyrical prelude into the inspiration behind what is about to be embarked upon, when listening to all sixteen songs.
The song discusses Fender’s complicated home life as a teenager, in which the singer-songwriter was forced to move back in with his mother – who previously walked out on him at just eight years old – after being kicked out of his father’s home by his step-mother. The song emulates the helplessness and vulnerability felt in their North Shields home, as he struggled to retain financial stability to support both himself and his mother, whose condition of fibromyalgia made it difficult to work.
There is a certain desperation to this song omitted through Fender’s vocals, which fulfils the story it sets out to tell – a perfect way to introduce what is set to be yet another award-winning album from Sam Fender.
This next song jumps to a young adolescent version of Fender, at the tender age of eighteen. It outlays the growth in his mental ability, battling with the choice to put himself first and focus on making a career out of his music over continuing to relentlessly ruminate over the situation his mother is trapped in, and the powerless desperation he feels in being unable to change it.
This song feels subdued, but more upbeat in sentiment, resembling his choice to independently decide to “let go” of the struggles that are suffocating him at home, in the hopes of not ‘going under’ and facing the same reality many in his town continue to face.
Sam Fender is not one to shy away from voicing societal woes within his music. When asked in an interview about the meaning of his latest hit ‘Aye’, Fender described it as being “about the polarity between the left and the right wing, and how that leaves working class people displaced with a lack of political identity, playing into the hands of the 1 per cent,” – something he recalls personally, as a result of his Northern upbringing.
The song itself – entitled after the Geordie word for ‘yes’ – is poignant and brutally honest to its core. The beat leaves me feeling empowered inwards, and screaming with delight outwards. It feels somewhat more rock-orientated in comparison to his past releases, which I embrace with open arms.
Read the full review of ‘Aye’ here.
‘Get You Down’
‘Get You Down’ delves into Fender’s past childhood insecurities, which can be seen to hinder his future relationships in the present – both platonic and romantic. He describes the song as “an absolute heart-churner” but admitted that his record label were not convinced about the track back in 2019 – when it was originally recorded for debut album Hypersonic Missiles.
The track is rather repetitive in its discourse, and features all the same classic instrumentals of his previous album, but for that very same reason, I can see it easily being lapped up by mosh pits at his future shows.
Read the full review of ‘Get You Down’ here.
‘Long Way Off’
‘Long Way Off’ feels weirdly sensual, despite the political nature of what is being discussed; political polarity and how Fender, as a working-class individual, felt “abandoned” by a lot of the lies sprouted by left wing parties, amidst the Brexit saga. Fender further gives a nod lyrically to nearby constituency Blyth Valley, which turned Tory in 2019’s general election, after a long-standing history of Labour support. He goes on to say that “There’s a sect of snooty liberalism in the media world that completely alienates working-class people” – a sentiment shared by many other individuals living in working-class areas around Britain.
I really like the melody of this song – full of fire and gritty substance, leaving you with a sense of empowerment, despite the inferred journey that is needed to occur if left-wing parties are to realign back with their desired electorate.
‘Spit Of You’
‘Spit Of You’ can be seen to musically embody his idol Bruce Springsteen most obviously out of all his recent releases. It gives off a country-esque vibe, which is neither rock nor pop heavy – yet another example of the way he subtly creates his own genre in the current climate of music we are a witness to. I simply cannot think of another contemporary singer whom I would even dream of placing in the same sub-category.
This particular song considers the relationship boys have with their dads, focusing on the difficulty for males to express their emotions and feelings in a healthy and sustained fashion. He describes the track as a “declaration of love” for his own dad, cutely presenting his affections through song – a method of artistry that is often used to break down barriers of communication such as the ones he describes lyrically.
Read the full review of ‘Spit of You’ here.
‘Last To Make It Home’
‘Last To Make It Home’ presents a slower, more intimate, side of Fender that has not yet been heard from the twenty-seven year old. It is delicate, and epitomises that dazed feeling of sadness that is felt when feeling trapped by your personal circumstances. It is ultimately a tender ballad, that beautifully highlights the self-awareness he feels to get himself out of such a depressed state of mind.
In his own words: “It’s really an anthem for losers—because we’ve all been a loser once. I’ve been a loser hundreds of times”.
‘The Leveller’ brings a similar tone to that of eighties rock bands, simultaneously combining with this weird sense of angelic brokenness, which older releases of Coldplay similarly embody so well. I absolutely love the constant change in beat and vocals that are presented within the song – it keeps you constantly on your toes, and unaware of what to expect next, which is something so rare against the ‘fast-food’ music so often produced in this generation.
“This is about depression and rising out of it. It’s a fighting song. But the leveller is the lockdown itself. It levelled everything” says Fender.
‘Mantra’ is about Fender realising that it isn’t healthy to pay so much attention to those who do not care about you within the music industry, but solely of themselves.
Out of all the songs on the album, I have to say that I find ‘Mantra’ the least convincing. It reminds me of hold music, or the kind of music you would expect from a doctor’s waiting room – in a strange way, that is also its rustic charm. There is a lot of instrumental on this track without Fender’s vocals, which allows you to ponder and reflect – probably a good thing for such a heavy-hitting album.
‘Paradigms’ is a rock song that aims to raise the self-esteem of those listening to it – there are not many lyrics within, but what is presented holds great substance. Discussing the song, Fender says “people shouldn’t live miserably, they shouldn’t have to. I lost another friend to suicide last year. And I got all of my friends from home, some of them who knew him as well, to sing that last line, ‘No one should feel like this.’ It’s a choir of people from Shields. I think it’s a really powerful moment”.
‘Paradigms’ is a classic example that there is more than meets the eye (or ear) when listening to a track – this one just contains that a little more deeply in sentiment than most others.
‘The Dying Light’
As the sequel to the 2018 track ‘Dead Boys’ – which openly examines male suicide – the softly spoken ballad ‘The Dying Light’ is contrastingly taken in the perspective of someone thinking about taking their life. “I wanted [the song]to be the triumph over [suicide]—in the moment when you decide, ‘No, I’m not going to do this, or I can’t leave those behind’”.
I think it is spoken beautifully lyrically, and I just know the words imparted will help reach out to so many people struggling to come to terms with their emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes a song can talk you through a feeling in a more rational way than your own mind, and so I salute Sam for creating such a eye-opening track in all of its intimacy.
‘Better Of Me’
‘Better Of Me’, which contains the female vocals of Brooke Bentham, details the feeling of thinking you are over somebody or something, until it comes back into your life unexpectantly.
The song feels a little empty for my liking, with a lot of soft instrumental pauses and repetition, but I do like the idea Fender was trying to present when writing and composing the song. It is certainly not the most catchy of all sixteen releases, but it is perhaps the most relatable when considering its contents. As the first song I have fully associated with ‘love’ from the singer-songwriter, I am intrigued to see where this vulnerability will lead, looking forward.
‘Pretending That You’re Dead’
‘Pretending That You’re Dead’ discusses a romantic relationship Fender had at the mere age of sixteen, which ended as a result of the girl cheating on him. It emphasises the dramatic nature of everything you experience when at that age, unable to understand that there are more weighty affairs to ponder over in life. Fender describes the narrative of this song by saying: “your world comes crashing down after your first relationship. It’s like, ‘The only way I’m going to get through this is if I pretend that she’s dead’”.
The delicate chimes heard in the background of this song only further allude to its child-like nature, which is perfectly fitting for what is being delved into.
‘Angel In Lothian’
‘Angel in Lothian’ – an area located in Scotland – discusses a myriad of mythology, and seemingly – from my own interpretation – the thoughts that Fender battles with at night surrounding his childhood, even now, many years later. The song also features the use of a harmonica – an instrument, which Fender is candidly known to have taken up during lockdown for the purpose of this new album.
For whatever reason, ‘Good Company’ reminds me of ‘Half The World Away’, as sung originally by Oasis. It is subtle in sentiment, and denotes this melodic sense of peace that feels almost like a self-inflicted lullaby. The song is all about kindly juxtaposing the best and worst parts of himself in relationships, alluding that he unintentionally ends up giving romantic partners the latter.
This lovely ballad was originally debuted live in Hamburg, just before the pandemic hit at full force in March of last year. He had written the song the night before, and so could even be seen reading some of the lyrics out of a phone held up in front of him.
With ‘Poltergeists’, Fender cathartically portrays self-peace with this softly-spoken song, by holistically and lyrically letting out the woes he felt from childhood, and the consequential impact it continues to have on him in his present day as a growing singer-songwriter. As a poltergeist describes a ghost or supernatural being, which creates physical disturbances such as making loud noises or throwing objects, the title perfectly summarises what it is like to go feel trauma and the sensations that occur as a result, and therefore is the perfect way to conclude this sixteen-track album.
Seventeen Going Under demonstrates a true sense of artistry from start to finish – almost resembling that of a musical cast album, in the sense of such detailed and lyrically encapsulating story telling being conveyed by Fender to his listeners. Listening to the album feels like an intimate and sweetly subdued experience – there are many new softly spoken and subtly-induced ballads present, which was a rather unexpected surprise, given the nature of his releases to date.
Truly inspiring and gut-wrenching. I am in complete ore of the ethos the Northern singer-songwriter embodies, and all he has – and will – go on to achieve in his lifetime, despite the pain and sorrow felt during his childhood. What an uplifting and authentically honest talent Sam Fender is.
Seventeen Going Under is out now via Polydor Records. Listen via Spotify below: