Album Review: Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under
Livia Cockerell reviews the new Sam Fender Album, Seventeen Going Under.
Seventeen Going Under captures the irrational and somewhat stifling noise of youth. It is a coming-of-age album that successfully depicts the emotional turmoil of a teenager butting heads with the realities of the world.
Sam stresses the struggle of understanding and accepting these feelings at a young age, particularly when this is paired with the burden of toxic masculinity, a theme which is carried through the album in such a manner that seems to mimic the way this issue is carried through a young man’s life. In ‘Spit of You’ the songwriter reflects on this as an intergenerational dilemma as he describes the way in which a lack of verbal communication amongst men translated into his own relationship with his father. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album and I think it is because it epitomises what Sam Fender is all about: a musician who unites the personal and political.
“Fender successfully depicts the emotional turmoil of a teenager butting heads with the realities of the world.”
“Those dead boys are always there, there’s more every year.” The poignance of this line strikes a particular nerve with a social issue that is so often tiptoed around being condensed to a single line that presents both a sense of simplicity and tragedy. This line clearly echoes ‘Dead Boys‘, a track from Sam’s debut album. However, where ‘Dead Boys‘ carries a sentiment of utter despondence, ‘Paradigms’ has a greater focus on recovery and rehabilitation. The repeated line “No one should feel like this” is sung by Sam along with friends from his hometown who lost a friend to suicide shortly before the first lockdown in 2020. Re-listening to the track with that in mind, I feel like this verse almost becomes like a battle cry as these voices plead for people to listen and help those who are struggling.
Fender’s talent as a lyricist comes to the forefront in the more political of his songs. In this album, Sam captures the rage and frustration of growing up in a system that feels like it is set against you. As one of the most politically driven songs on the album, ‘Aye‘ is fuelled by working class fury as Sam sings “I don’t have time for the very few, they never had time for me and you.” To me, this track feels like Hypersonic Missiles on steroids, carrying the same themes of classism and elitism but with its enraged “effing and jeffing” (as Sam described it in a recent interview), ‘Aye‘ certainly packs more of a punch.
“Besides Sam’s talent as a witty lyricist, his music is equally as weighty.”
Seemingly, Fender’s confidence has not only grown as a musician but also in his beliefs and ideologies. Much of Sam’s music is inspired by the political state of the world with ‘Long Way Off‘ having been written when the U.S. Capitol was stormed back in January 2021. Once again, Fender seems to be drawn to divides between citizens as he conveys a polarised society in which “All the endless grey conundrums that are painted in black and white.”
Besides Sam’s talent as a witty lyricist, his music is equally as weighty, especially with the likes of “the thunderous, roaring, earth-shaking, life-affirming screaming sax” that Sam recently described on an Instagram post in an homage to his bandmates. In the past, Sam has expressed his admiration of legendary musician Bruce Springsteen, having covered songs such as ‘Atlantic City‘ and ‘Dancing in the Dark‘, and, in this album, I feel that this musical inspiration certainly shines through, particularly in songs such as ‘The Dying Light‘ and ‘Last to Make it Home‘.
Following his huge success with Hypersonic Missiles in 2019, I had high hopes for Seventeen Going Under and I for one would say that Fender has outdone himself. He has remained true to his roots and distinct style, but his growth and maturity as an artist is simultaneously evident.