Hypersonic Missiles, by Sam Fender
Suggested by Phillip Staines
Sam Fender is a 26-year-old from Newcastle. Judging by his album cover, he’s made entirely from cheekbones. Apparently, he has taken on by an agent after being spotted while playing a pub gig in his hometown at the age of sixteen.
I was in a band, playing pub gigs at the age of sixteen. Nobody spotted me.
I’m not surprised, to be fair. Even back then I was less cheekbone and more lamb shank. I was a mediocre drummer in a fun covers band, not a dynamic singer / songwriter / guitarist. I don’t care how much of a crowd-pleaser it is, no one gets famous off a two-bob version of Mustang Sally. Except for the bloke from The Commitments, of course.
Also, Hypersonic Missiles makes it abundantly clear that Sam Fender is a particularly talented White Boy With A Guitar. The guitar work is strong and focused, and vocally his confident and robust delivery makes a mockery of his youthfulness. Most impressive, however, are his powerful lyrics, spitting poetic vitriol in bite-sized vignettes on the working class condition.
There’s a great deal of Bruce Springsteen in Sam Fender’s work, which is something he’s unashamed to exploit. It’s most evident in the straight out rocky numbers, such as Will We Talk?, That Sound, and the exciting title track Hypersonic Missiles, but it’s pretty much a rippling undercurrent of the entire project. Even the bleak tracks such as Dead Boys, Fender’s examination of male suicide and mental health, have a modicum of The Boss at their core.
The maturity of the lyrics cannot be understated. Alongside the mental health discussion in Dead Boys, Fender also takes on themes as diverse as infidelity, the fear of stagnation, the war on drugs, and more. My personal favourite is White Privilege, a paired down acoustic track in which the singer examines and exposes his own successes in stark relief. Such a litany of worthy topics can be mangled and heavy-handed, but Fender retains a lightness of tone and a mischievous streak that helps the medicine go down.
Hypersonic Missiles is a successful debut, but that success isn’t unqualified. One slight issue I have is with the song arrangement. It’s clear that the majority of the tracks were originally written for a single guitar and voice combo. When expanded to a full band sound, a few songs feel forced in that regard, as if the band is tacked on as an afterthought. Not a deal breaker by any means, but worthy of remark.
I give Sam Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles an exciting 8/10. As a paragon of the aforementioned White Boy With A Guitar trope, which is only to be expected from a bloke with a guitar brand in his name, I’ll be watching Sam’s developing career with interest.