Sam Fender review – Hypersonic Missiles: Astonishing debut justifies the Bruce Springsteen comparisons
There are sax solos (more than one), and pounding rhythms that make you want to jump in a car and drive down a highway at sunset
“I am so blissfully unaware of everything,” Sam Fender sings on “Hypersonic Missiles”, the opening track to his debut album of the same name. Somehow you doubt it – on this record the North Shields-born singer-songwriter sounds hyper-aware of the pressing issues of our time, and rarely has an artist of his generation sung about them so eloquently.
Fender’s are songs of disillusionment, impoverished towns, ego-centric popular culture, privilege and male suicide. It’s an astonishing first album – the 25-year-old never preaches, and if anything, he’s most critical about himself. On standout “The Borders” he shares his guilt upon returning home to find a friend has not been so lucky as him; “White Privilege” offers searing home truths about the establishment, smug liberalism, and people who worship at the altar of Instagram culture.
Then there’s “Dead Boys – sung in a falsetto that recalls Nothing But Thieves’ Conor Mason – which is as much an indictment of class divide (a 2017 study found a strong link between disadvantage and suicide) as it is a heart-rending portrayal of depression: “We all tussle with the black dog/ Some out loud and some in silence/ Everybody ‘round here just drinks/ ‘Cause that’s our culture.”
Fender drew plenty of early comparisons to Bruce Springsteen – on Hypersonic Missiles they’re entirely warranted, as much for the instrumentation as the lyricism and his vignettes of working-class struggle. There are sax solos (more than one), and pounding rhythms that make you want to jump in a car and drive down a highway at sunset, and blistering electric guitars next to classic troubadour acoustics. He has Springsteen’s rousing holler, and the early indications of someone who could be the voice of a generation – not because he wants to be, but because he sees things and understands.