Sam Fender’s soaring sophomore album avoids the dreaded second album curse, instead becoming an instant timeless classic.
Opening and titular track Seventeen Going Under was the first song Fender shared ahead of the album’s release. Fender said that it was “a letter to [his] seventeen-year-old self” and sets the precedent for themes discussed on the rest of the album. Fender gets intimate with his past and reflects on his younger years in the opening song. It’s understandable why this track’s name was also used to title the album.
On his previous record, Hypersonic Missiles, Fender wrote with an outward view in mind, passing commentary on political climates and the woes of the world. On Seventeen Going Under, Fender is much more vulnerable and looks inward for inspiration. This time round he writes with deep introspection and honesty about how he has come to be the man he is today. Described by Fender as a coming-of-age album, Seventeen Going Under is Fender coming to terms with his youth and how it has shaped him and his career. It’s a theme he flirted with on his debut record, but on Seventeen Going Under he is able to fully explore his own life within his lyrics.
Particularly on Spit of You – arguably the best track on the record – Fender details the sometimes-strained relationship he shares with his father. The song perfectly sums up the realisation you face at some point in early adulthood when you really begin to understand that your parents are more than just your parents. They are their own people, someone else’s son or daughter, and have probably faced similar struggles to you. Fender sings “You kissed her forehead, and it ran like a tap / No more than four stone soaked wet through / And I’d never seen you like that” when remembering the actions of his father in the wake of his grandmother’s death which caused him to view his father in a different light. “’Cause one day that’ll be your forehead I’m kissing / And I’ll still look exactly like you” he continues. It seems that with age, Fender has understood why relationships with your parents can be so complex – in some ways, they are you. Your parents are hardwired into your entire being, whether you realise it or not. You are an extension of them, and it can feel like looking in a mirror, as Fender does on Spit of You. You see how the way your parents are directly impacts the trajectory of your life, which can be hard to come to terms with. It’s what makes Spit of You such a relatable and difficult listen.
Although Fender is much more personal on his second album there is still an underlying political bitterness in his songwriting. Getting Started discusses the frustration he faced as a young adult when his mother was being hounded by the DWP and Long Way Off narrates Fender’s feelings about a newly changing political landscape in the North East. On Aye,a shouty, raging rant of a song, Fender talks about the lack of political identity the working-class people of his hometown face and his anger towards “greedy tax dodging billionaires”.
The sound Fender creates with his band is a little softer this time around. There aren’t as many opportunities to fill dancefloors in indie clubs like there were on Hypersonic Missiles. It’s a gentler record, possibly better suited to the record’s more personal discussions, but still distinctively a Sam Fender album. He continues to draw inspiration from his hero Bruce Springsteen with jangly guitars and massive, crowd-pleasing choruses.
Much like on The Dying Light, which ascends into a haunting mix of big drums, bouncing keys and triumphant saxophone from Johnny ‘Bluehat’ Davis, who weaves his magic onto this track and most of the other songs on the album. Angel in Lothian, from the deluxe version of the tracklist, is another glorious song and is sure to be incredible when performed live. “This place is full of poltergeists / And tonight I’ll join them when I die” Fender sings on Poltergeists, the deluxe album’s closing track, alongside a stripped-back haunting piano melody. It’s a sombre and chilling affair that is a near-perfect end to a near-perfect record.
There is seemingly nobody quite like Fender within the musical landscape right now, and it’s hard to believe that this is only his second record. His honesty is unparalleled and his passion for his craft is evident on Seventeen Going Under, leaving listeners sure he is wise beyond his years. While other indie-rock artists croon over heartbreaks that come from failed relationships, Fender mostly prefers to focus on heartbreaks of a different nature – that is the harshness of the world around him, whether that be in his own life, of others from his hometown, or in the wider world. It’s an approach that not many artists take but one that Fender has almost perfected. There is no surprise as to why both of his albums went straight to number one in the UK album charts.
Words: Ellie Croston