Sam Fender

Hypersonic Missiles

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In the two-and-a-half years between his first single, the urgent and atmospheric "Play God," and the release of his full-length debut in 2019, much was made of U.K. singer and songwriter Sam Fender's relatively young age -- 23 by the arrival of the latter. After all, he was drawing frequent comparisons to influence Bruce Springsteen, both for the sound of his early singles and for the working-class compassion on display in his lyrics, and he won the Critics' Choice Brit Award in late 2018, an honor previously bestowed upon, among others, Adele and Sam Smith. He opened for Bob Dylan and Neil Young in Hyde Park in July of 2019, two months before the arrival of Hypersonic Missiles. Recorded in his own studio in his hometown outside of Newcastle, and produced by his longtime friend, engineer Bramwell Bronte, its 13 songs include "Play God" as well as selections from his 2018 EP, Dead Boys. Fender's sticky melodies, assertive tone, and gritty guitar hooks are evident from the opening moments of the title track, a song that offers lines like "Dutch kids huff balloons in the parking lot/The golden arches illuminate the business park/I eat myself to death, feed the corporate machine." Its rousing chorus asks, "When the bombs drop, darling/Can you say that you've lived your life?" Later, the striking "White Privilege" is a voluble entry along the lines of a more-ruminative "It's the End of the World as We Know It" or "We Didn't Start the Fire." It goes on record with: "The patriarchy is real; the proof is here in my song." Hypersonic Missiles isn't all political; romantic interests and the healing powers of music are also topics at hand. In fact, as the album unfolds and traverses sociopolitical angst, romantic infatuation ("Call Me Lover"), and the urge to let loose (the infectious "Saturday"), it reveals itself to be a fitting soundtrack to the weekend, addressing hopes and frustrations with a persistent intensity and rousing melodies that fall in line with the catharsis at hand. The album ends with an impressive live performance (the piano ballad "Use"), which demonstrates that Fender's soaring vocals are just as authentic as his sentiments. Taken altogether, Hypersonic Missiles is smart, passionate, and loaded with rock-solid anthems that surpass the "promising" designation.

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