Sam Fender-Seventeen Going Under

23 February 2022 / by Ava Wagner
Black and white image of a brick home with Seventeen Going Under on the side in red
Album reviews
Sam Fender Seventeen Going Under
Released: October 8, 2021
Label: Polydor Records
Indie Rock
Bruce Springsteen / Oasis / The Killers
Seventeen Going Under, Get You Down, Pretending That You’re Dead

Sam Fender’s highly anticipated second album, Seventeen Going Under, is everything it was promised to be—thrilling indie rock, with introspective sincerity at the heart of its lyricism. 

Unlike his debut, Hypersonic Missiles, a jumbled compilation of songs written across the span of his teenage years, Fender’s sophomore record presents a cohesive journey, both sonically and thematically. It exposes listeners to the hard truths and growing pains of one’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. 

Opening with the title track, Sam paints scenes of first loves, small-town rivals, and financial hardship supported by bright, reverb-heavy guitar and a hammering backbeat. The first single of the album serves as the perfect introduction for new listeners to his usual writing style—providing upbeat, hopeful instrumentals to accompany the troubling tales of his youth.

Fender takes on a few larger societal issues on this record — “Aye” with its booming chant-like commentary on everything from class wars to cancel culture, and “Paradigms” with its strings-backed surface-level criticism of the media’s overarching control over society — yet it’s the tracks that speak to his personal vulnerabilities that breathe new life into the classic punchy guitar riffs listeners have come to know him for. 

Emulating The Killers on “Get You Down”, Fender uses sweeping strings and a pulsing electric guitar to accentuate lyrics encapsulating the guilt of allowing his anxiety to plague his romantic relationships:


I watch you sleep

With eyes of contempt

Those eyes were meant for myself 

But tonight, tonight I’m gonna get you down


On “Spit of You”, backed by a sparkling guitar-mandolin duet that acts as a warm comfort from the emotional subject matter, Sam explores his complicated relationship with his father, and the humanization of parental figures when watching them grieve loved ones of their own:


Every bit of me

Hurting for you 

‘Cause one day that’ll be your forehead I’m kissing 

And I’ll still look exactly like you


While the album shines lyrically, the majority of the tracks follow the same structural patterns, his signature saxophone-guitar power struggle and extended outros feeling repetitive at times. 

Few songs manage to break out of this strict format: “Poltergeists”, while an unmemorable closer, presents a stripped-back piano ballad with echoing vocals, allowing listeners to feel as though they are watching him in a bar after-hours, with nothing but a microphone to hide behind. “Mantra” provides a refreshing, Joni Mitchell-inspired acoustic number on not letting others’ opinions overwhelm you. “Better of Me” is perhaps the only true attempt at experimentation on the record, with a steady heartbeat tempo and eerie synths adding vocal distortion as he sings of suppressed feelings resurfacing at the sight of childhood acquaintances. 

Undoubtedly, the most prominent standout of the album is “The Dying Light”, a response to his first big hit “Dead Boys”. The song acts as a triumphant battle cry “for all the ones who didn’t make the night”, alluding to the prominent and close-to-home issue of male suicide in his local community. Opening with twinkling piano chords and Sam’s thick, accented vocals, the song builds and eventually soars, concluding in a theatrical crescendo of strings and saxophones galore, promising hope prevailing over despair.

It is clear that Sam has finally found his sweet spot, balancing personal and political musings with ease, and allowing listeners to feel both understood and empowered by his unapologetic coming-of-age vulnerability. If Fender’s sophomore record proves anything, it’s that his quality songwriting and earworm guitar riffs make him an exciting new talent for listeners to root for as they face the complexities of early adulthood right alongside him.