The debut album from North Shields born Sam Fender is reminiscent of a Bruce Springsteen record, and shows him to be a musician not only interested in writing easy pop songs to satisfy popular radio stations.
Like Springsteen, Fender takes lyrical inspiration from the issues faced by the working classes, and he is quick to point out that his own background is the same one he writes about; in the run up to the album’s release he was critical of other artists that produce soppy chart-filling songs for the so-called pop machine.
With the release of Hypersonic Missiles, however, he found himself sharing chart space with those very same soppy musicians; Hypersonic Missiles went straight in at number one in the UK album chart when it was released in September of 2019, thus the charts were successfully infiltrated by his genuinely meaningful and politically charged lyrics with his first effort.
The themes of Fender’s lyrics are the key to his music, they provide this album with a reason to be in the charts beyond the obvious self-serving ones. He writes of his own experiences growing up on a council estate, of losing his friends to suicide, of living in a dysfunctional household and of having nothing to do but wish it was Saturday. These are all things real people experience every day and Fender captures the mood of the issues he writes about brilliantly. Without a doubt, the best songs on this album come from the most honest and emotive places in Fender’s mind. Everyone who listens to the lyrics of this album, if they’re human, will feel them. ‘Dead Boys’ is a lyrical highlight; good enough to be given its own EP, it tells of how the male suicide epidemic is sweeping through towns and cities across the UK, and how there seems to be so little that can be done to stop it.
Fender doesn’t shy away from political messages either. The album’s title track questions what kind of world we are living in when there’s a reason for governments to have weapons of mass destruction and ‘Play God’ speaks of totalitarian states. Songs like these prove Fender to be politically aware as well as a good enough writer to get his message across via the medium of chart-topping music. Other songs speak of the homeless being turfed up by the local council, and the youth of the UK being lied to over Brexit. Political messages like these are rarely seen in the charts and Fender does very well in getting them there. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it has to be a good thing that political themes are being brought to the foreground of the UK charts because it gets conversations started, and isn’t that what music is for?
The album isn’t a masterpiece however, and has its troughs and well as its peaks. Specifically, ‘White Privilege’ seems to lack a foundation and touches on various political themes; Brexit, social media addiction, and political correctness but there doesn’t seem to be a clear statement being made by the track. Fender, himself says the song is spoken through a number of characters but, with the way its sang, theres no clear differentiation between them. The album also falls down with the tracks ‘Call Me Lover’ and ‘Will We talk’ which both seem in to give in to the pressure from Fender’s record label (Polydor) to write radio friendly love songs that are guaranteed to get the album space on Spotify and radio playlists. They aren’t bad songs in their own right but they don’t add to the album what they perhaps could, and they leave the listener wondering where the lyrical inspiration has gone.
The album lacks in its production as well and at times the sound of the record feels a bit too much like an 80s tribute. Sax solos aren’t often seen in modern music and they’re great, but not when there’s a clear over reliance on them. Fender’s guitar parts also feel a bit underwhelming at times and are sometimes lost in the empty spaces of the production. The record, sonically speaking, just lacks that little bit of je ne sais quoi and fails to provide the punch that the lyrics do.
Hypersonic Missiles is Fender’s first bash at writing an album, and he’s doubtlessly succeeded in demonstrating his lyrical talent. His intimate writing style resonated with people all over, and his commitment to getting serious issues back into mainstream music is admirable, especially when the other music in the charts is so bland. But the 25-year-old has a way to go before he can live up to the expectations that he’s going to be the next generation-defining voice. The album is a good effort though, and I’m looking forward to see what’s next.