February 25, 2019 Hozier – Wasteland, Baby! (Album Review)
It has not exactly been a long time since we last heard from Hozier, as he delivered his exceptional Nina Cried Power EP just this past September. However, it has been nearly five years since his self-titled debut, so fans will no doubt rejoice at the arrival of the full-length Wasteland, Baby!. The sophomore effort arrives on Friday, March 1, 2019, thanks to Rubyworks/Columbia Records.
Grammy-nominated Irish Singer-Songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known as Hozier (pronounce that Hoze-ee-er), took the world by storm with his hit single “Take Me to Church,” along with his 2013 debut EP of the same name. His full-length debut, Hozier, arrived a year later and, in 2015, he released the Live in America EP. Seeking to use his music as a tool for social activism, Hozier has released videos that tackle the weighty topics of violence against gays in Russia (“Take Me to Church”), as well as pointing a spotlight on domestic abuse awareness (“Cherry Wine”). Recognizing his talents and his keen insight, the singer-songwriter has received awards from the likes of the BBC Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, European Border Breakers Awards, and Teen Choice Awards, as well as receiving a veritable host of other nominations. (It’s not been a bad run, baby!)
For his sophomore disc, the 14-song Wasteland, Baby!, Hozier proves that he is no one-trick pony. Self-producing alongside collaborators Markus Dravs (Björk, Florence + the Machine) and Rob Kirwan (U2, Depeche Mode), he sets out to create a diverse collection that runs the gamut from intimate and soulful moments to tracks laden with catchy Pop-sensibilities to dark and moody, folksy laments. There’s nothing that should shock fans: just a whole lot of the delicious talent that has brought Hozier to the here and now.
In fact, two of Wasteland, Baby!’s track will be immediately familiar to fans, and the album opens with one of these selections: “Nina Cried Power.” A highlight of its namesake EP from Fall 2018, the song retains every ounce of its initial power and glory here, and Hozier gives a moving vocal performance, one that is complemented flawlessly by Gospel singer Mavis Staples’ equally passionate vocals. A respect-filled tribute to those that have used their microphones for social activism throughout the years, there are lyrical nods to Nina Simone (for whom the song is named), Patti Smith, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and more. “Power has been cried by those stronger than me,” Staples offers in a line that drives home the emotional heft of a song that will hit you right in the feels every single time.
Dainty guitar work opens the clap-along “Almost (Sweet Music),” something much Pop-ier than its predecessor, a catchy little respite that effectively highlights Hozier’s honey-rich vocal theatrics. Ballad “Movement” goes for intense emotionality and rich delicacy, like a beautifully moving (pun intended) entry into the soulful Gospel Pop realm. There’s a funky, jazzy finesse to the bass-heavy groove of “No Plan,” while “Nobody” marches to the steady beat of a heart that is celebrated for its incomparable, perfectly imperfect love.
Seeking to inspire listeners to belt one out, the joyous “To Noise Making (Sing)” urges the world to simply sing-along. You don’t have to do it right, just let the music find its way through your bones! Conversely, “As It Was” goes dark and folksy to create a deliciously intimate mood that provides a stand-out moment on an already powerful collection.
The soft notes of the equally folksy “Shrike” should already be familiar to fans, as the track initially appeared on the Nina Cried Power EP. It is, in fact, the perfect contrast to its predecessor: an elegantly fluttering, largely acoustic offering that goes for a shimmering delicacy where Hozier openly laments his inability to voice his love and appreciation in a lost relationship.
Amping it back up, “Talk Refined” struts with proud guitars that weave around Hozier’s silky smooth baritone, and this continues into the steady clap and distorted guitars of “Be,” where he implores listeners to be present, to give love, and to overcome humanity’s atrociously flawed past. Meanwhile, “Dinner & Diatribes” might sound like an episode of This Is Us, but it is not: instead, it’s a catchy, toe-tapper that injects some slight Country influences into its jam session.
Heading back to intimacy with soft pacing, “Would That I” finds Hozier singing alongside wispy acoustics that slowly build toward electrification as he falls into the fiery side of love. Next, he rejoices in the gospel of loving “Sunlight,” before he concludes with the album’s namesake track. “Wasteland, Baby!,” another subtle acoustic offering that gives an intimate glimpse into this talented artist, mirrors earlier track “Shrike” closely, creating a pair of somewhat misplaced bookends. Here, Hozier’s voice quakes, which creates an emotional emphasis to his already soft utterances and concludes the collection on a powerful note.
There is a minimalism to Hozier’s craft: his intense, soaring vocal theatrics and intelligent yet universally relatable lyrics stand unadulterated by superfluous studio accoutrements. In short, the man can sing and that cannot be said for many of today’s top artists! Wasteland, Baby!, therefore, stands as a testament to Hozier’s exceptional talents and a reminder that there is still sincere and exceptional new music being made in 2019. Like a fine wine that simply improves with age, there’s no stopping Hozier. Ready to make noise and sing, Cryptic Rock give Wasteland, Baby! 4.5 of 5 stars.