The North Shields singer-song-writer, Sam Fender, has recently released his new ‘coming-of-age’ album, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ in which he has perfectly captured the essence of what it is like to be young and coping with inner turmoil amidst external chaos. Niamh Budd Shares her full thoughts…
When Radio X’s John Kennedy previously asked if this album was autobiographical, Sam confirmed that lockdown, combined with seeing a therapist, encouraged him to be “introspective…” and that “the whole album became about growing up”. Thus, whilst he has a unique talent for conceptualising how the lyrics, vocals and instruments will come together, this album has, more importantly, mastered the art of storytelling. Sam’s opening title track, Seventeen Going Under immediately engages his fan base and the catchy guitar melody instantly has echoes of Sam’s primary influence, Bruce Springsteen. “The music comes together in rehearsing”, he told John Kennedy; for this specific track, “the chord progression came first”.
he importantly grapples with the themes of toxic masculinity, mental health and male suicide
Concealed by catchy melodies, Sam’s poignant lyrics strike at the heart of contemporary issues on an individual and national level. After losing a friend to suicide in lockdown, he importantly grapples with the themes of toxic masculinity, mental health and male suicide. The songs Paradigms and The Dying Light explore the stigma around seeking help and expressing emotion freely. By repeating the line “no one should feel like this”, fans can feel empowered and cathartic, by connecting with the positive and enabling message.
Sam takes this further by exploring the impact mental health, and insecurity, can have on relationships. Focussing on the relationship with his own father, the song Spit Of You shines a light on the difficulty of opening up or keeping connected with others. The lyrics “I can talk to anyone…I can’t talk to you” particularly ring true for many father-son relationships, especially after observing his father’s vulnerability whilst grieving. Primarily, Sam’s lyrics prompt inward reflection, ultimately encouraging us to treasure the connections we have with people.
He admits to letting down others in past relationships; the song Get You Down represents times where you can recognise you have a problem but cannot seem to break the pattern. Perhaps Sam is too hard on himself, for his apparent self-loathing appears to be reoccurring, but, lacking self-esteem and letting bad habits sabotage good things in our lives is something we can all, surely, resonate with at times. Whether it’s in a relationship or another aspect of our lives, Sam reminds us that forgiving yourself is the first step towards healing.
Thus, the album’s difficult and serious topics are balanced by a hopeful progression as helplessness is shifted towards self-acceptance. By the song The Leveller, Sam recognises that either you plough through depressive thoughts or they overwhelm you. He has explained that the song’s title was inspired by the pandemic placing us all in a similar situation, as perhaps for the first time in history, we are all entirely connected by a common threat; there is something surprisingly comforting in this.
Admittedly, Sam is, at times, pointed in his accusations, particularly in the songs Long Way Off and Aye, in which he expresses frustration and disillusion over not having anyone to support or believe in. “We’re led by a bunch of morons” he voiced to John Kennedy, “I suppose I’m waiting for the Messiah”. Hidden behind his (half) joking remarks however, is a song-writer who wants to make a difference and wants us all to do better. His blasé, and matter-of-fact, honesty brings a refreshing optimism to balance the cynicism. The use of hypnotic drums and claps only exacerbate the feeling that Sam is calling upon us all to rally for action and to never be complacent. Sam might feel reluctant to put his faith in world leaders, but my guess is he has placed it with us.
Whether or not alternative Indie is your primary music of choice, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ should be praised for its ability to connect, so modestly, with ordinary people. The album respectfully teaches us to accept ourselves in a way that is absent of judgement and condescension; Sam, himself, still appears to be coming to terms with this, but nonetheless, he invites us all to join him on his journey.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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