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English singer-songwriter Sam Fender impresses with debut album

After surfacing last year on the BBC’s Sound of 2018 poll, Newcastle singer-songwriter Sam Fender struck listeners with his hard-hitting lyrics that took on a spectrum of social issues in the UK and abroad.

Following a steady stream of singles beginning in 2017, in addition to being selected as the recipient of the prestigious BRITs Critics’ Choice Award, Fender has finally released his anxiously-awaited debut album, “Hypersonic Missiles.”

From the album opener, the title track, there’s no denying that Fender’s sound is largely influenced by his idol, Bruce Springsteen.

“I love him; I just love him,” he said in a recent interview with Dork Magazine. “All of his stories, all of the characters, you somehow feel like you can be them, even the crazy ones.”

While the song “Missiles” features a resonant vocal delivery and an atmospheric saxophone solo reminiscent of Springsteen’s earlier work, Fender’s lyrics place him firmly into a category of his own.

He does not shy away from tackling both large and small-scale issues and topics that are important to him. The title track serves almost as a thematic thesis for the rest of the album; to accept both the state of chaos our world is in and the roles we can have in changing it.

One of the many highlights of the album is “Dead Boys,” a song that sheds light on toxic masculinity and the cultural stigma surrounding men being open about their struggles with mental health.

Fender dips into Springsteen-esque storytelling on lighter songs, too, like “Saturday,” a song he described as being about “hating your landlord,” and follows a character bemoaning being behind on its rent.

The best example of Fender’s storytelling, and incidentally the best song on the album, is “The Borders,” a sprawling Geordie epic about a troubled friendship in a rural, northern English town.

“It was one of the first times [I’d written] a song that has parts of my own life in it…This song is the most I’ve ever drawn from my own life; it’s the most I’ve ever revealed [about myself],” he told DJ Annie Mac during an interview on BBC Radio 1.

“The Borders” is a rare instance of a chorus-less, 6-minute song that I never want to end; it is a song that takes on a life of its own.

Although his songwriting is very much at the frontline of the album, Fender’s voice is truly showcased on songs like “You’re Not the Only One,” “Two People” and “Leave Fast.”

Sonically (no pun intended), “Hypersonic Missiles” is not the most original-sounding album this year, and running at an overlong 50 minutes, it is difficult not to feel that one or two songs could have been cut.

Questionably, Fender himself stated the album had a couple of duds on it, and it is not hard to identify “Call Me Lover” as one of these.

Despite this, the lows here are massively outweighed by the highs. It is still an album worth playing through in its entirety, ideally at top volume or during a road trip. Fender’s debut is an immensely strong effort that does more than live up to its high expectations.

Above all, on “Hypersonic Missiles,” Fender shows he is a keen and sensitive observer of the human condition and an advocate for humanity’s ability to make change; a voice that will no doubt assist in paving the way for more positive times.

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