On October 8th, British singer-songwriter Sam Fender released his sophomore album, Seventeen Going Under. While it is absolutely a more personal record than his debut, 2019’s Hypersonic Missiles, it has lost none of Fender’s “acute sense of observation.” Throughout the album, Fender waxes poetic on class warfare and his place in the world when he was seventeen (hence the album’s name), as well as the premise of young love and “the feelings of emasculation and low self-worth.” This album goes into some heavy places lyrically, but the sound completely juxtaposes this.
As mentioned in our review of “Get You Down,” the third single to be released to promote the album, the music itself does not sound sad. It sounds uplifting. It sounds hopeful. It sounds positive in a way that few modern artists are capable of achieving with such negative sounding lyrics. Sam Fender is essentially the British Adam Granduciel, except he performs under his own name instead of under a band moniker (The War On Drugs).
On the third track of the album, “Aye,” Fender proclaims “They watched Lennon as they shot him dead/They watched Jackie pick up Kennedy’s head/They watched kids go to Epstein’s bed/ … / They watched the atom bomb reduce two cities to dust/And paint the whole narrative as totally just.” These are just a few of the observations made by Fender in regards to class warfare – the first chorus is “Poor, hate the poor” repeated ad nauseam – while acknowledging his place in the system that perpetuates this cycle. However, the music wouldn’t make a listener think the lyrics are going to such a dark place: there are driving guitars, bass, and drums, and the melody is not too minor.
Furthermore, “Aye” resolves directly into “Get You Down,” so any sort of negativity in the sound is immediately brought back to Earth when the guitars of “Get You Down” start. Which brings up the tracklisting of this project: it’s fantastic. It was a bold move to start off with the lead single, but “Seventeen Going Under” is such a phenomenal Springsteen/The War On Drugs-esque song that Fender can get away with the gamble. “Getting Started” is a wonderful palette cleanser – though, listening to the lyrics, how cleansed can the palette be? – before the darkness in the lyrics of “Aye,” and then “Get You Down” resolves that nicely.
Admittedly, the most memorable moments of the album on appearance (i.e. looking at the tracklist) are those four tracks, but there are gems later in the album as well. “Spit Of You,” “Last To Make It Home,” and “Mantra” are beautiful. Much like the first four tracks, the way Fender juxtaposes music and lyrics is glorious, and they are so well written that it’s hard not to feel something while listening. The highlight of the latter half, though, has to be the closer: “The Dying Light.”
There are four key tracks to nail when releasing an album, much like in musical theatre: the opening track (opening musical number), the end of side A (end of Act 1), start of side B (start of Act 2), and the closer (the finale). On Seventeen Going Under, Sam Fender nails all of them. “Seventeen Going Under” is a wonderful opener, “Spit Of You” closes side A, “Last To Make It Home” starts side B, and “The Dying Light” has such a phenomenal musical climax that it’s hard to listen to the bonus tracks on the deluxe album. There just doesn’t seem to be anywhere else for Fender to go on this project, as “The Dying Light” wraps up everything sonically, lyrically, and thematically.
Of course, Spotify only has the deluxe edition, so feel free to listen to those tracks as well, but to be completely honest, I wasn’t able to listen to them. “The Dying Light” just took me out every time through the album, and I had to sit in silence and just breathe for a little bit after listening to it. This is a powerful analysis of the self, and Sam Fender needs to be commended for his honesty and talent at making the individual feel universal.
Check out Seventeen Going Under below, and be sure to read our review of “Get You Down” linked up above! Sam Fender has returned with force, and there is no such thing as the sophomore slump for him. To make the same joke twice, he’s not going to “Get You Down.” He’s just acknowledging where he is, where he’s come from, and where he’s going. It’s a beautiful sight to see.