Sam Fender: Seventeen Going Under review – Song topics relatable if typical

The music backdrops might be par for the course, but little is held back

Seventeen Going Under
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Artist: Sam Fender
Genre: Rock
Label: Polydor Records

North of England songwriter Sam Fender came along a few years ago not fully formed but bursting at the seams with youthful expression and a relatively safe-as-houses style that endeared him more to traditionalists than fans of, say, FKA Twigs or James Blake. Hypersonic Missiles, Fender's 2019 debut album, presented strong hints of Bruce Springsteen with its songs of working-class lives, but it also highlighted thoughtful ways in which to cover other topics such as mental health and toxic masculinity.

Two years and a pandemic later, Fender returns with a collection of songs that, perhaps inevitably given the solitariness of the past 18 months, look inwards. As on the debut album, Fender’s hometown of North Shields forms the background narrative but this time he is the central figure. Song topics are relatable if typical (adolescent angst, mistakes made and learned from, unemployment blues, personal and domestic relationships, disturbing encounters and, says the album’s press release, “events that Sam cannot unsee”).

The music backdrops might be par for the course, but little is held back. Whether it’s blasting guitars and swelling saxophone breaks on Get You Down or Springsteen-like piano rolls on The Dying Light (“this town is a world of waifs and strays… dead men at the bar, I’ve drank with them all”), Fender might tread on familiar ground, but he does so wearing steel toe-capped boots.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture