A look at the rise of the Geordie singer-songwriter and the excitement for his new album after the release of stunning new single 'Seventeen Going Under'.
Sam Fender has been nicknamed, by some, as the ‘Geordie Springsteen’…
This sort of comparison to a giant is done in many industries (football being a prime example), and it's something that often makes my eyes roll. But this one specifically does at least have some logic in the sense that Sam shares Springsteen’s effortless knack of delivering hard-hitting tales of his hometown.
Having this tag comes with the pressure to fulfil the huge potential it hints at. Bruce is an all-time legend after all. Sam has distanced himself from these links to one of his heroes but seems to have come to terms with the fact that people, including me just now, may forever tie him to the great man as a reference point.
I call him Sam as opposed to the more arms-length Fender as it feels normal for me to do so. I feel like I know him even though I essentially don’t. But he’s built that affable aura. It’s mainly down to him coming across in both interviews and via social media as a humble, relatable guy.
The rise of Sam Fender
He and Lewis Capaldi – who are friends – had a similar mentality on how best to connect with their respective fans. Essentially, try to remove the pedestal that the consumer naturally puts you on. Be yourself, don’t be afraid to be self-deprecating and have a laugh as you rise to the top. Indeed, Sam actually pipped Lewis to the 2019 Brit Award for Rising Star.
They're part of a new upcoming generation of popstars who understand modern music consumption and why they've to be active in interacting with their audience.
Sam actually started to make waves a bit earlier than his Brit recognition suggests. He was named on BBC’s Sound of 2018 shortlist alongside the likes of Billie Eilish. Radio 1’s Annie Mac made ‘Dead Boys’ - his emotive commentary on male suicide - her Hottest Record in August 2018.
He went on to release an EP of the same name that made yet more people sit up and take notice. This included ‘That Sound’, which was such a hit that it demanded to be placed on his debut album too.
And that debut album finally came in September 2019, named Hypersonic Missiles. He had teased us with several new singles in the lead-up, such as ‘Will We Talk?’ and its title track.
The former is a song that discusses one night stands and the emotional complications surrounding them. ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ opened up the album and it is a banger. Filled with lyrical angst and dread at a predicted bleak future, it is an anthem you can channel your anger at the world into. This, in verse two, perhaps best captures the essence of the message:
“I am so blissfully unaware of everything/ Kids in Gaza are bombed and I'm just out of it / The tensions of the world are rising higher/ We're probably due another war with all this ire”
‘White Privilege’ is an album track that underlined his intention to not be apolitical. It talks about Brexit and racism, amongst other things, in a kind of stream of consciousness.
‘Saturday’ is another album track I still one I can’t get enough of. The video accompaniment stars Peep Show actor Matt King. It’s the lyrics again though that steal the show on this. The opening lines depict the sad reality of a significant part of the working population, who work very hard for little reward:
“Overtired, overworked, underpaid, under pressure / Always tying up loose ends”.
The chorus explodes: “if Saturday don’t come soon, I’m gonna lose my mind”, switching to a higher pitch ooh-ing sound on the word “lose” – incredibly catchy.
Seventeen Going Under
Anyway, I’m looking back rather than forward. If we now fast forward to the present-day, he has just released the title track for his second album Seventeen Going Under. The music video is shot in North Shields and is a distressing look into some of his experiences growing up there.
The delivery of his words down the camera lens in dark surroundings reminded me a little of the ‘Dead Boys’ video. It is a moody song with a mature retrospective look. Basically, it is classic Sam Fender.
Shortly after hearing it for the first time, I realised he had released a B-Side with it. Titled ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’, it's a short but heavier rock number with some IDLES influences.
It's a serious yet slightly playful look from his perspective, lining up in his local supermarket during the pandemic with all the palpable fear and social distancing rules. It’s this post-chorus breakdown that makes you hate the fact you’re not headbanging to this live.
“Wow wow wow wow wow wow keep your distance, wow wow wow wow, not less than two metres!”
Above all, it really hits home at how weird a time we’ve been living in. That’s one of the best rock lyrics of the year - and it’s only on a throwaway track that will not officially be on the upcoming album!
As I outlined with the first album, Sam’s discography has a strength in depth that means some of the so-called smaller, album/EP tracks can have the most longevity on your playlists. He values the format of an album and will have likely been both deliberate and carefree in his writing process for his new LP.
Also, and here’s a big reason why you should be excited for the full release of his new album, he’s had the blessing of time. Many breakthrough artists usually have to deal with the constant spotlight and the daily pressure of what they will do for their follow-up. And they may even end up feeling rushed to put something out there, build on their momentum.
But due to Coronavirus, he has had a lot of time off. Granted that will have upset him as much as any other artist as he adores performing live. However, not only has the pandemic given massive scope for subject matter but it has meant he can do some growing up privately; he admitted himself in a recent interview with NME that he has done a lot of this.
This doesn’t just apply personally, but musically too. The outside world has been on pause for spells but creating music can be, and often is, done indoors – and he’s had no shortage of time there, like all of us. He has had endless opportunities to hone things, experiment with new sounds and reflect on his own hectic rise to fame.
At 27, he is at an age where he will naturally become more purposeful and self-aware. And being thrust out of the limelight has probably done him some good. He was in that intense period of touring and starting to become properly famous. He has been forced to take a step back, allowing him to analyse his early success and plan for what he wants to do next – not what people want him to do.
The power of Sam Fender
Although the musicality of so many of his songs are great and boast brilliant guitar riffs and trademark saxophone solos, it's his lyricism that is his standout feature. As I said early doors, he’s a storyteller. His lyrics can be blunt and verse lines are generally only repeated for emotional impact rather than through a desire to become radio-friendly.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having Sam’s music as a go-to when I’m feeling angry or a little pessimistic about my life or, you know, the future of the planet. His songs are handmade for the live scene where you could think of little better catharsis than to be in a group of passionate people therapeutically singing sad-but-guitar-fuelled songs.
I have seen him play a small slot in a festival once but have had two gigs of his own cancelled in the past couple of years. I can’t wait to properly watch him live and be one of many in that crowd, singing along as one unit about generally dark topics.
I think it will be powerful and actually may make me optimistic about the future. It could show that people care about the world, that men talking about mental health should become more common, that society can be better. That’s the thing with Sam, he makes you want to be part of something special. He can be a once in a generation artist due to his overwhelming talent and his desire to use his platform.
And even if you don’t want a deeper connection with his performance, you can just go to jump around and scream to his absolute belters. He’ll be adding to that growing portfolio with more lead singles.
And then that anticipated second album, the one you should be licking your lips just thinking about, is due to be released later this year on October 8th. As he said in his Instagram announcement of this project: HERE WE, HERE WE, HERE WE F***ING GO.