Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

Not a song about the K-pop band touring Australia. Nor a song about the American teen magazine going out of print…


Ian Mathers: I’m not assuming Sam Fender reads TSJ or took notes from our (justifiably) tepid response to his “Greasy Spoon” back in 2018, but it kind of feels like he did? Actually singing about himself and his memories, his pain, his experience, instead of repeating “I am a woman” in what at least came across as a well-intentioned but misfiring attempt to get under someone else’s skin. The depictions and the critiques here, as well as the catharsis, just feels more genuine and certainly more intense. Yes, the whole thing feels very Springsteen, but actually in a way that makes sense. If the rest of the record strikes this kind of balance instead of the one “Greasy Spoon” did, I think the result might sneak up on some people.

Jeffrey Brister: I was first acquainted to Sam Fender via his brilliant cover of The Boss’s “Atlantic City“, so this song comes as no surprise. It aims for that transcendence Springsteen so casually achieves at his best, but it can’t help but fall short. Not for lack of trying — Fender’s voice is full of melancholy, perfectly emulating Springsteen’s whoa-oh’s in the background, managing to stay centered even as the music drives harder and harder around him. Once the sax kicks in, the influence is undeniable. Flattering without being slavishly devoted to the template.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Tastes like salty coastal air, sounds like rock records played during high school basement sleepovers, and feels like the understated melancholy of wondering if you’ll ever know more than you do at 17. Sam Fender leans into childlike introspection on “Seventeen Going Under,” but the neo-futuristic ethos is somehow entirely adult. 

John S. Quinn-Puerta: A five minute crescendo with a jangly guitar and synth bass that opens a window to an alternate universe where Vance Joy and the Killers didn’t sink into a steady decline but instead remained relevant, shaping alt pop in their image. 

Scott Mildenhall: A big step up: a thorough psychic immersion into agitated adolescent experience, comprising shards of sense memory and ever more distorted impressions of others. There are numerous powerful moments, but that howling snatch of someone — maybe his father, maybe his adult self — commenting quite helpessly — maybe obliviously — on his depressive demeanour is the swan dive from the peak. In speaking from experience, Fender’s voice gains vitality, and while the sonic fireworks have their forebears, they are at least good ones. “Seventeen Going Under” may be derivative, but it’s also unique.

Juana Giaimo: I like songs that tell stories, but I find it hard to empathise with this one. I’m still not entirely sure what the title means, and the “I was a bad kid, I made my family suffer” storyline seems to look for some kind of self-pity that is already a common place. Musically, it reminds me of Arcade Fire. It’s too upfront and his deep voice too rigid, lacking the softness that nostalgia needs.

Katherine St Asaph: Fender’s voice is just too heavy and throaty for that jangly “Solsbury Hill/”Here Comes the Sun” guitar, so it makes sense that when the arrangement becomes surging and his vocals become backing, this improves. It’s just that it improves in a very familiar way.

Alfred Soto: The weedy vocals are the point: the pressures of masculinity, whether updated for the times or real, make things like stresses beside the point. But I still have evaluate “Seventeen Going Under,” and it has charms, most of which stem from Sam Fender’s ebullient relation to his craft and a commitment to indie rock strum-and-sing that I thought had disappeared. 

Vikram Joseph: That opening Go-Betweens-ish riff is so gnawing and evocative — sure, it could have appeared in a song from any decade since the ’60s, but it still twists something in my stomach. And the transition into a pounding heartland-rock banger feels inevitable, but no less cathartic for it. Sam Fender sings like a music teacher once told him to PROJECT! and forgot to mention he didn’t always have to, but “Seventeen Going Under” is great enough for it not to bother me. Discussions around men’s mental health rarely go much deeper than T-shirts that say “BOYS GET SAD TOO” and cheery exhortations to “be kind!” and “talk to someone!”, but Fender understands not only that the pervasive attitudes and situations that form the backdrop to boys’ childhoods help form the scars that toxic masculine behaviour oozes from, but also the way in which social and regional inequalities feed directly into those environments. (There are several exceptional lines here — the verse about anger is close to poetry — but “I see my mother / the DWP see a number” is just so simple and so good, a clear-eyed expression of fury and despair which will make you pump your first in the air on public transport.) And there’s saxophone, there’s a wailing two-note outro, there’s the most strident woah-ohs since whenever Japandroids last showed their faces. In a world where you can be anything, don’t just be kind: be reflective, be empathetic, be this fucking good.

Reader average: [8.66] (3 votes)

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2 Responses to “Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under”

  1. I’m genuinely looking forward to this record – it sounds like he honed in on everything that worked on his first album (to the point where this is basically a more energetic version of “The Borders”, but that’s not a bad thing at all!)

  2. Damn, standing ovation for Vikram’s blurb, nice work!

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