You're Not the Only One
Will We Talk?
Call Me Lover
A few years before releasing this debut album, Sam Fender entered a period of personal turbulence that included being diagnosed with an illness serious enough to have him contemplating his mortality. “I wrote a lot of my best stuff in that place,” he tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “It was just a mad time in my life. Some crazy things happened when I was about 20. It changed my perspective on everything.” One decision he reached was to stop writing songs for the wider world and concentrate on music that simply connected with him. “It was purely a selfish thing. It didn’t matter if I ever played them to anybody. And then it worked! You spend a lot of time looking outwards, at everybody else, but you should stick to your guns, man.”
While he’s learned to trust his instinct, his lyrical focus has remained outwards. The people-watching and social conscience that ran through his early singles are expanded on Hypersonic Missiles, a chronicle of the everyday frustrations, dreams, and dramas of working-class towns such as the one he grew up in, North Shields, on England’s north-east coast. Prompted by the passing of a friend, “Dead Boys” examines male suicide and the reluctance in certain communities to talk about depression, while other subjects include abusive relationships, the patriarchy, one-night stands, and the politics of leaving a small town. The music moves between the title track’s full-blooded Springsteen-style rock, knottier indie (“Play God,” “That Sound”) and sparer folky moments (“Two People,” “Leave Fast”). Throughout, its urgency sits well with the emotionally charged lyrics. “You can hear the desperation in [‘Play God’],” he says. “I’d come out of this mad place, my producer was going to quit [music], I was going to quit. It came from a time where I needed to prove myself: ‘I need to do something that’s going to cut through.’ Half of the album comes from that time, and you can tell because they’re all ‘Ahhhhhh!’ on the moon, singing like it’s your last day on Earth.”
A potent transmitter of feeling, Fender’s voice often recalls Brandon Flowers’ emotive surges and the haunted delicacy of Jeff Buckley. Buckley has been an influence ever since Fender’s older brother handed him a copy of Grace when Sam was 14. It’s hard to miss on a debut that packages yearning, desperation, anger, and escape in twisting, brooding guitar music. “I remember being blown away by the sheer power and vulnerability in [Grace],” he says. “It’s rock music, but it’s not like that macho thing. I realized rock music could be delicate.”