WHO IS HE? The latest high-cheekboned, tousle-haired pretty-boy singer-songwriter to be eagerly exported from Britain to these shores. But before you lump Sam Fender in with the rest of the acoustic guitar-wielding whingers, know this: He’s way more Bruce Springsteen than Ed Sheeran. In fact, based on Hypersonic Missiles, it’s probably fair to say he’s the biggest Boss fan to hail from a council estate in North Shields.
WHAT IS THIS? His debut full-length, which was originally slated to come out in mid-August but was pushed back a month (I suspect his label didn’t want it to compete with the Springsteen-centric soundtrack for the movie Blinded by the Light).
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Heartland rock filtered through a British sensibility. Fender’s musical man-crush on Bruce — which he’s openly owned up to in interviews — manifests itself in the guitar-based, saxophone-braced cuts that dominate this disc. Though to his credit, he writes about toxic masculinity and mental health more often than he writes about teenage tramps who were born to run through the streets in the night. And here’s the weird thing: About half the time, he actually sounds more like fellow Springsteen acolyte Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem. Even odder: More than a couple of these songs recall the hypnotic jangle of War on Drugs and even the clanging alt-rock of The Strokes. So go figure.
WHAT WOULD BE A BETTER TITLE FOR THIS ALBUM? The River Tyne.
HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? Without judging him too harshly. He is only 23, after all. And even at his most derivative, it’s still clear he’s a talented songwriter, passionate lyricist and decent vocalist. So he’s got a few more years — and a few more kicks at the can — before he deserves to be dismissed as an impersonator.
WHAT 10 WORDS DESCRIBE IT? Urgent, melodic, chiming, grounded, retro, serious, ragged, rugged, anthemic, passionate.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? The grandly powerful title cut, the insistently driving Borders and the punchy and chiming Will We Talk? But aside from a couple of forgettable back-end ballads, it’s all highly listenable.
WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY SAY? ‘Hey, it could be worse. He could be England’s biggest Nickelback fan.’
HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO THIS? At times, it almost seems like more of a curiousity than anything else. Even so, you’ll likely put it on whenever a Springsteen fan who hasn’t heard it pays a visit.
IF THIS ALBUM WERE A CAR, WHAT KIND OF CAR WOULD IT BE? A used Dodge Challenger with right-hand drive.
SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? I’d stream it. But you’re the boss.