Music Reviews

Album Review: Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!

Five years after his debut album, Hozier, back in 2014, the Irish singer has produced yet another hit, with songs that are heartfelt, powerful, and political.

“Each song is engaging and distinct”

The second album of the 28-year-old, Grammy-nominated singer, Wasteland, Baby! was released on March 1st after years of waiting by fans and critics alike. After the immense success of his previous singles, EPs, and debut studio album, his sophomore effort reflects on the gloom and strife of the world but retains a powerful and inspirational undercurrent of hope and positivity.

Speaking to NPR, Hozier said that he was “still trying to find in the worst case scenario the warm, still-beating heart of humanity”, and that message is clear. Whether it is allegory about love, civil activism, or nature, each song is engaging and distinct, albeit always an assuredly Hozier song.

The Rubyworks/Island album was produced by Hozier, Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine, Brian Eno) and Rob Kirwan (Local Natives, Depeche Mode, Delorentos), who also worked with the singer-songwriter on his 2014 album. After taking a few years out—he earned it, considering his sold-out tours and critical and commercial success in his early twenties—he spent a year writing and recording the music for the new 14-track album.

“[‘Nina Cried Power’] is a powerful and bold track which sets the tone for the rest of the EP, and this album”

With an upcoming North American tour in March, followed by a European tour from August to October, promotion of the album began with the release of Hozier’s fourth EP, ‘Nina Cried Power’ on September 7th of last year. The track features the vocals of renowned American Gospel singer Mavis Staples and the prophetic organ-playing of Booker T. Jones, and against a religious cacophony choir, it is an unmistakably political song. Listing singers and political activists like Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown, it is a powerful and bold track which sets the tone for the rest of the EP, and this album. “The battle for equality these artists championed remains an ongoing and necessary one”, Hozier told Rolling Stone.

“A certain kind of fleeting joy that celebrates life and music itself”

The EP also included the moody ‘NFWMB’ and ‘Moment’s Silence’, as well as ‘Shrike’ which also featured in Wasteland, Baby! Hozier seems to be confident in his own strengths in his new album, with the tracks filled with a certain kind of fleeting joy that celebrates life and music itself. You could definitely call it easy listening, but a closer listen proves it has merit as a socially-aware production that does not sacrifice its artistry for its message.

“His lyrics are poetic, soulful, and filled with endless meaning”

As always, his lyrics are poetic, soulful, and filled with endless meaning. The lines are perfectly balanced, flowing easily and never tripping up. The harmony between the vocals and the instruments in the background swells and recedes like water, allowing each repeated listening to reveal new nuances and details. ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’ was ‘inspired by jazz standards’, and has a punchy beat which certainly mimics the common compositions seen in jazz music. ‘Movement’ is heraldic, intimate track clearly written from the heart. ‘No Plan’ is slow and heady, with ribbons of rocky, metallic guitar in the background to accompany smooth vocals. ‘Nobody’ is a blues-inspired track perfect for singing along to.

The album can seem a little heavy on the gospel at times, which, while an influence Hozier wishes to pay homage to, can make some of the songs seem a little repetitive. This debt is made clear in ‘Nina Cried Power’, and affects a handful of the tracks, but the alternative songs, with variations on rock and folk music, easily break up the pattern.

“I think [the second half of the album] is the better half overall”

‘As It Was’ is perhaps more like the Hozier the world was introduced to in 2014, with acoustic guitar melting into half-murmured, Southern Gothic vocals. It easily leads into the second half of the album, which I think is the better half overall, with ‘Shrike’ lending a mournful, poetic hand to the listing. ‘Talk’ is a folky, meandering narrative which joins the procession, its lyrics filled with mythology and seduction. Hozier described the ‘romantic language’ of the protagonist as something used to ‘distract from the fact that I’m trying to seduce you’.

“Calm and soft, a lulling whisper, watery but never insincere”

‘Dinner & Diatribes’ and ‘Be’ are filled with catchy guitar riffs, and feature Hozier’s vocals spiralling into the air, slowing down the momentum into the last three tracks, which are meditative and thoughtful, rounding off the album with the titular song of the album. It’s calm and soft, a lulling whisper, watery but never insincere, matching the album cover perfectly.

“The album has its weaknesses, but its strengths are numerous and varied”

The album has its weaknesses, but its strengths are numerous and varied and more than enough to make any weaknesses fade way into the distance. It cements Hozier as a musician who puts heart and soul into his music, who is unafraid to get political but remains mindful of how that message is delivered. What he has produced is a mix of melancholy and seduction which showcases his musical talent with a fresh yet familiar vibe.

He is evocative of Bob Dylan, as many critics have pointed out, but this album proves his potential and range, too, making him an easy comparison to the greatly underrated Jackson C. Frank. Folk, rock, blues, pop—Hozier is able to embrace all the genres with ease. With work on his next album already underway, we can have faith that we will be greeted again with an effortlessly authentic performance by this self-assured artist.


Esme Johnson

Featured Image courtesy of Hozier Official Facebook Page.

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