Sam Fender

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Hypersonic Missiles (2019), 5.5/10
Seventeen Going Under (2021), 5/10

English singer-songwriter Sam Fender debuted with the EP Dead Boys (2018) and the album Hypersonic Missiles (2019) in a style similar to blue-collar rock of the 1980s but propelled by inane drum-machines: the rousing saxophone lines in songs like The Borders are reminiscent of Clarence Clemons on Bruce Springsteen's The River and the riffs and hooks found in songs like Hypersonic Missiles mirror the melodic rock ballads of Bryan Adams. Springsteen-ian pathos almost (almost) materializes in the passionate White Privilege and especially in the haunting Play God. There's a bit of Lou Reed in Saturday and a lot of U2 around (That Sound evokes Inxs covering U2, Will We Talk? evokes a rockabilly version of U2). He comes through as more sincere (or at least less derivative) when he lets his voice and thoughts dominate like in the guitar elegy Two People and the closing piano elegy Use .

A more prominent dance beat characterizes Seventeen Going Under (2021) from beginning to end, a style best epitomized by the overwrought single Seventeen Going Under. The bombast mostly is there to hide the dearth of ideas. Booming basslines, propulsive drum-machines, hysterical guitar lines and buzzing saxophone collide in songs like Get You Down which otherwise would be forgettable middle-of-the-road soft rock. It's Phil Spector-ian production transplanted to the digital studio, perhaps even more evident in explosive crescendo of The Dying Light, that began as a piano elegy. Things calm down a bit with the piano lullaby Last to Make It Home and the soul-rock ballad Mantra. The real highlight is Aye, half gospel and half hard-rock, an odd marriage of Billy Idol and Aretha Franklin.

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