Sam Fender – Hypersonic Missiles
Indie Rock | Americana
There are plenty of performers out there able to emulate their influences to a tee. Scores of artists that use their hometown and their upbringing as a source of songwriting inspiration. Subjects like recent political turmoil and the absurdity of modern life make themselves easy targets for creatives the world over. So what is it about this one rising star from the North East that means he can do all this and yet still stand out from the crowd and resonate with listeners. The answer is two fold: intensity and sincerity. You can’t sing about wider issues in a way that connects with people unless there is passion behind it, and likewise you can feel deep down when an artist is being open about their home and upbringing and how it’s a part of who they are.
It’s in the moments where those two ideals overlap where you hear Sam Fender at his best. Politically charged centrepiece ‘Play God’ builds tension with its menacing bass line, while ‘Dead Boys’ dwells on male suicide but never succumbs to melancholy, rather wrapping the message in sweet melodies to better reach anyone that needs to hear it. The anthemic salute to Springsteen on the magnificent title track, channelling the likes of The Killers on ‘The Borders’ with its playful ode to a rough upbringing, the frenetic driving rhythm and uplifting score of ‘Will We Talk?’s euphoric one night stand. These tracks seem to revel in the bad as much as the good, as though all the shit times give the joyous ones context and meaning. Like it’s all part of the road that leads to this one glorious present.
Where the record falls down is where the intensity falters. Sam seems to lose steam over the course of the album, fizzling out rather than ending with a bang. Sometimes the subject matter calls for a more simple approach, like ‘Two People’s tale of domestic abuse, but much of the rest of the album’s B Side gets bogged down by languid arrangements. Even in the filler tracks however, Sam’s greatest asset keeps the record afloat. His songwriting is a treasure trove of wit and wisdom, his lyrics as insightful as they are entertaining. ‘White Privilege’ takes well aimed shots at everything from Brexit and capitalism, to celebrity culture and political correctness. It’s a droll, all-encompassing diatribe to rival even Father John Misty, but here too Sam is held back by a dull arrangement that lacks sufficient swagger to really drive the track home.
In the songs where everything comes together however, we get a real glimpse of something special. Sam Fender shows a remarkable honesty, energy and intelligence in his songwriting that we see all too rarely. If he can build upon the successes of Hypersonic Missiles and cut out the filler then he could soon earn a place as one of the most exciting artists in Britain today.