Sam Fender mixes introspection, activism, and anthemic musicianship on Seventeen Going Under.
Recently hailed a Geordie “hero” after his hungover appearance on BBC Breakfast, Sam Fender’s latest album, Seventeen Going Under, has been well worth the wait. Following his 2019 debut Hypersonic Missiles, Fender quickly became acclaimed for addressing important political issues. His sophomore release, however, has more of a personal touch, with the Newcastle chart-topper “turning the mirror on himself” after being uninspired by life in lockdown.
Fender was brought up in a deprived area of North Shields, where he lived in a flat with his mum and dropped out of his A-levels. Seventeen Going Under follows him as he navigates his way through his adolescent years, steering his way around turbulent relationships with family, friends, and lovers.
The title track and first on the record, Seventeen Going Under gives listeners a real taste for what is to come in the album. As the title would suggest, the track focuses on Fender as an angry seventeen-year-old, getting picked up by the “bizzies” and putting on a brave face despite his inner turmoil (“canny chanter, but he looks sad”). The track also touches on the tribulations experienced by Fender and his mum at the hands of the government (“I see my mother, the DWP see a number”) and his contemplation of selling drugs to clear their debt (“so I thought about shifting gear”).
Referred to by Fender as “one of the more personal tracks of the album”, Get You down explores how insecurities manifested in childhood (“I catch myself in the mirror, see a pathetic little boy”) tore apart romantic relationships in his adolescence. Another ode to tricky relationships is the infectious Spit of You, in which Fender sings about his relationship with his dad and their inability to talk about their emotions (“I can talk to anyone, I can’t talk to you”).
Despite the more personal tracks on this record, Fender has not neglected his political standpoint. Aye is possibly one of Fender’s angriest songs, as he dissects issues of class and political polarisation amidst a brittle punk-rock sound. Although he admitted to Apple Music that he doesn’t know much about politics, Aye blasts the wealthiest one percent of society (“I don’t have time for the very few”) who make their money by exploiting the working-class.
An impressive sequel to Dead Boys, The Dying Light is a real stand-out track of the album. Addressing the unrelenting issue of male suicide (“for all the ones who didn’t make the light”), the song is from the perspective of someone who is contemplating taking their own life. As the song crescendos towards the finale, they overcome their thoughts and decide to keep living for the ones they love.
Seventeen Going Under is a triumphant showcase of why Fender is one of the most influential artists of the generation. His songs are relatable and powerful, yet the catchiness of his tunes ensure that will still be belted out by thousands at festivals.
TOP TRACK: The Dying Light