With tales from the sort of town that you either escape from early in life or face a lifetime of being permanently trapped in, Sam Fender brings a voice not so much for the underdog, but for the forgotten. Following his BRITs Critics' Choice award, there could have been an understandable temptation to play it safe on his debut, but 'Hypersonic Missiles' does anything but that. Instead, it confirms him as a truly rare talent.
Leaning deeply into his beloved heartland rock throughout, this isn't an album that hides its influences away with a clear love for the likes of Springsteen and Buckley. The title track itself showed that 'Dead Boys', as stark and powerful here as ever, was no fluke - swirls of saxophone bringing it to life. But 'The Borders' is the sort of track that changes everything forever. Staggering in its raw brutality, the lyrics paint a truly upsetting picture that is all the more disturbing for its matter-of-fact delivery. It is the sort of songwriting that takes the breath away.
There is also a distinct lack of fear when he wades into ever-divisive topics like Brexit on 'White Privilege'. A track sure to set the cat among the pigeons, he takes aim at both sides of the debate with mentions of smug liberal arrogance and dumb bigots. Deliberately sitting on the fence or not quite bold enough to state his true mind? Who knows, but as he says on the title track, he has no answers, only questions.
Not every song matter has a granite weight behind it. 'Saturday' seeks an escape the mundanity of day-to-day life and yearns to live for the weekend instead, while 'Call Me Lover' is a sweet and effective love song. But it's those hot social matters that he returns to again and again, pulling at threads that are otherwise swept under the carpet. Elements of 'Hypersonic Missiles' will ruffle some feathers for sure, but that's not always a bad thing. Yet at its heart, there is a simplicity and unerring focus that heralds the unmistakable sound of a major new talent emerging. The world that Sam Fender lives in and sings of may not be beautiful or perfect most of the time, but this record sure is close.