Seventeen Going Under
Cleverly Looking At The Past to Look to The Future.
As an avid Newcastle United fan and a ‘Geordie’ too; it was probably tough for me to admit that Sam Fender’s debut album didn’t really hit my sweet spot; although a couple of tracks were actually quite outstanding.
Having seen him at a few local venues on his way ‘up;’ and watching his ongoing development I was interested in his reappearance after the eternity that was called lockdown.
I know I shouldn’t prejudge these things; but sometime you do; and now it looks as though I might be on ‘humble pie rations’ for a few weeks; after my first tentative listens to ‘Seventeen Going Under;’ with the final test being to listen to it on my morning walk – no interruptions etc, just the chance to listen and contemplate in the Autumn sunshine.
Fender’s work was recently described in one article that I read; as ‘a collection of anthems’ and I can understand why that phrase was coined, as he has produced an album with some real crackers on it, but all following slightly different musical routes – a ‘Geordie Springsteen’ was suggested by Will Richards in a Rolling Stone review too….. and again; you can hear why.
There is no escaping the fact that his songs follow his very working class upbringing in the streets of North Shields, at the mouth of the River Tyne; and even more relevant, that they represent him from his early years through to his mid twenties – some good and some not so good memories in the pick ‘n mix.
Taken as a whole, the listener is left with an album that (in my opinion) will still sound meaningful for several years to come.
You cannot miss his North East twang on the opener and title track, Seventeen Going Under as his fractured childhood reveals he was;
‘far soo scared then
but I would hit him in a heartbeat now’.
I always find it amazing that artists can produce a song like this out of such sad times; but backed by a driving chorus and guitars Sam does it with such composure and self-assurance.
Still only Track one and I was already hooked more than on ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.
‘Getting Started’ is another catchy track, with Sam proving to be quite an accomplished wordsmith with his ability to produce a vocal to fit perfectly into the arrangement.
‘*Aye’ is a savage history of some of the notable events in history, ranging from the Crucifixion, through the atom bomb to the Kennedy assassination years – all of this as backing guitars hammer out behind his great vocals; although those of us (i.e the Rocking Magpie himself!) who are upset at the ‘strong’ language may not agree.
His views of those who ‘hate the poor’ and ‘double down on misery’ are evident here too.
The highlight was, surprisingly, one of the softer tracks, the ‘Spit of You;’ about his relationship with his father as he
‘smashed cups off the floor,’
with Sam pleading …
‘I can talk to anyone but I can’t talk to you’
while ‘The Leveller’ highlights ‘Little England ripping itself to pieces’ with the scribbling on the walls about ‘the scum who overstayed our welcome’.
You aren’t left in any doubt about his leanings, politically, yet it just fits in neatly in the middle of the album.
Sam remains ‘stuck on a cycle’ in ‘Mantra’ as he is desperate to be a better person, only to fall at just about every hurdle he encounters before he just….. turns off his phone …. so he isn’t receiving ‘anything or anyone’.
Powerful stuff for one so young; and dare I say it, along the lines of Springsteen at his own younger, political best.
It’s difficult to review what is clearly an album of one man’s memories, where the majority are of a pleasant nature; but it’s Fender’s astonishing ability to keep you listening; even though there usually isn’t a happy ending; which makes this a real gem of an album.
In many ways Fender covers areas not touched upon in his first release; but to superb effect.
On reflection, I have to admit that ‘The Dying Light’ with its lovely piano backing could easily move into my Favourite Track position, as it allows him to use his great vocals to full impact, as the singer realises on that he needs to remember the good times/folks in his life instead of always looking on the dark side of life.
Lockdown and self isolation found Sam without the company of friends in the local boozer (public house) but he used this solitary confinement to write and mould a set of tracks that deserve to be listened to intently, so you get the full extent of the darkness into which he fell.
Therapy gave him the chance to understand that some events he had sought to forget in his life, were really the events that may well have turned him into a writer of the songs that now offer these feelings to the world at large on Vinyl/CD and of course download.
First and foremost Sam Fender is a **Geordie through and through, second of all a ***Toon fanatic and last but not least a writer of great songs and judging by this collection; possibly even a great writer of great songs as he matures and perhaps allows himself to be a bit more upbeat.
Humble pie now eaten and digested – it tasted a lot better than I thought.
* Aye aka ‘yes’; but in the local parlance can be used to convey many different feelings.
**Geordie – historically a person from in and around Newcastle upon Tyne
*** Toon fanatic – a supporter/follower of Newcastle United (a city; but the self depreciating locals always refer to it as ‘the Toon’ (i.e Town)