The idea of bonus tracks in recorded music has always been both an intriguing and polarising one, historically affording somewhat uncalled for opinions coming from a plethora of stakeholders and contributors in the wider music space. Everyone from fans to critics and artists themselves seem to hold moderately loaded mixed bag stances on the notion of bundling non-album cuts as part of deluxe, or expanded, versions of studio LPs. Their modes of employment might just be as varied and versatile as the opinions they go sprout, as both songs originally left on the cutting room floor, as well as alternate versions of tracks included in the main full length tracklist (spearheaded by acoustic and live re-takes), have habitually found themselves getting second lives breathed as part of single B-sides, territorially-bound album versions, celebratory anniversary reissues, and more recently optimised digital streaming economy unit economics.
Despite quite literally ‘not making the cut’ on whatever final incarnation a full body of work translated into, artists old and new (and, crucially, their sly record labels) have long been known to be stoking alternate ways of stitching superfluous bonus tracks on top of some physical or digital variation of packaging for their official projects. English singer/songwriter Sam Fender, who recently unveiled his second studio album Seventeen Going Under on Polydor Records, saw fit to dilute his nominal 11-track album version through five additional records, sequenced on the so-called 16-cut Deluxe version of his critically acclaimed Bramwell Bronte-produced outing. This is per se nothing under the sun new for the 27-year-old North Shields native, who had hitherto widely flirted with both intra-LP-cycles non-album tracks (see 2018’s EP Dead Boys, or singles such as “Millennial“, “Greasy Spoon“, and “Hold Out“) as well as bonus offerings on fully fledged studio LPs (case in point, the live rendition of “Use” on his debut LP Hypersonic Missiles).
However, Fender’s latest curatorial choice in time affords us the weird and wonderful opportunity to decouple the faux-embedded five-track EP stacked across tracks 12 and 16 on top of the sonic gesamtkunstwerk represented by the Seventeen Going Under Deluxe version. Instead of embarking onto the conventional highway of reviewing the real record Sam intended listeners and year end’s list to appraise, we’re shifting gears to zero in on the throwaways; the fat that was supposed to be cut. Starting with the mystically hypnotising glazed tenderness of “Better Of Me“, sequenced at number twelve on the revamped tracklist, a softly blistering cry of monolithic matter-of-fact earnestness espoused with unambitious allegoric poetry: “And I hated you / I was so jealous of your standin’ / And I envied your happy family / Oh, I looked like shit / Stuck in all my vice rotations / Tryna’ find light in every broken soul“. Easily one of Fender’s most out-there ‘experimental’ outings to date, the song dabbles in both sampled loop tapestry and one-dimensional syncopated drumming, to render a bona fide moment of cathartic implosion.
The following careless and lighthearted “Pretending That You’re Dead” is a successful exercise in pure The River-era Springsteen-meets-Smiths worship, complete with unadulterated ‘end of the world’ lyrics and seas of chorus-effected guitar licks that don’t quite seem to want to give the tune any melodic respite. Meanwhile, the sheer forlorn weight of the brilliant “Angel In Lothian” sits at number fourteen on the deluxe project, fiercely distributing heart-wrenching accounts on awarding the number one prize for the most ruthless sabotage to one’s very self: “And I claw at the door every bad night / But somehow it’s blocked from thе other side / I claw ’til my skin comes apart / Until I feel something“. Out of all five bonus tracks making up this crop, this is hands down the one that should have made the official record—both for reasons of focused thematic addressability and watertight musical delivery.
Penultimate offering “Good Company” aptly showcases the barer and starker nuance of the widespread acclaimed heartland rock artist, conveyed through a relatively impressive lullaby-esque handpicked arpeggio, sped up to such an extent where one can’t but admire the awe-inspiring muscular elasticity of the performer’s fingers. Although a tad underdeveloped—lest we forget, these are records Fender did not find worthy of his main course offering—lyrically the song sticks out for its emotional and assertive ambivalence, with Sam caught drowning under the blank bullets of the existential crossfire that comes with some degree of acceptance of the duality of man. If anything, it acts as a necessary wind down from the prior aguishly dense full hour of music, segueing into the conclusive piano-led “Poltergeist“, an introspective ballad pulling the curtains over the roller coasting one-man ethics errands show that just preceded it, with some of the most evocative and poignant vocal passages on the whole record: “I haven’t been the best of men / Morality is an evolving thing / I can blame the times, I can blame the weeks / I can blame the things that we saw as kids / I’m a waster darling, and I’ll tell it straight / With all my failures on a platе / She picks at them and doesn’t chеw / And spits them out for me to view“.
Be it the darlings that were never properly killed, file them under a philosophical approach on the quantum physics notion of God’s particle, or lace them into a Lacan’ian theory of inverse psychoanalysis—some might argue that aside from allowing and affording the true enjoyment of the main musical oeuvre to begin with, Fender’s ‘hidden’ EP within Seventeen Going Under inherently stands as a significantly deserving little project of its own. These renegade cuts, more than ever before in the English act’s still relatively infant discography, stand to signify the wide-reaching and holistic songcraft prowess of one of the UK’s biggest musical prodigal sons. By creating a superalbum of sorts, Fender managed to turn his sophomore full length into a meta ‘project of projects’, simultaneously upholding and defining the curtailing confines of conventional music release formats. Much like Erwing Schrödinger’s cat experiment in quantum mechanics, Seventeen Going Under is both eleven and sixteen tracks long, and its boundless enjoyment (or distaste) ought not be attained in spite of the five extra bonus tracks, but precisely because of the inclusion of the excessive bells and whistles.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.