It may be hard to believe that Hozier’s new album Wasteland, Baby! is only his second. It seems like he’s spent the last few years since his debut album Hozier writing cryptic tweets about his oatmeal while his fans beg him to release new music.
The new album explores continuing themes of religious imagery to describe mournful romances, with Hozier’s iconic vocals delivering beautiful ballads. A couple of songs in the album reflect the upbeat rhythms of earlier songs such as “Someone New,” supplemented with clapping and snapping rhythms, taking on an early 2010s alternative rock/pop feel. These are light-hearted, cheerful songs that would blend in with the repertoire of lots of talented male pop singers on the radio.
“Nina Cried Power” is a soul-shaking anthem that calls to memory the chilling hit “Take Me to Church.” The use of a full choir to echo Hozier’s call “Power! Power, Lord! Nina cried power!” chills to the bone with its haunting melody.
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“As It Was” brings back Hozier’s well-known, mournful Irish tunes, and it’s one of the shining stars of the album. Beginning with only a simple guitar riff in the background, the swelling violin and viola and piano instrumental hits the listener harder and leaves them wanting more. Its surprising intensity reminds the listener of the soulful prowess Hozier possesses that other artists can only try to imitate. The range and clarity of his voice is highlighted by the simple instrumental texture and lyrics that raise goosebumps: “Eyes at the heights of my baby/ And this hope at the fight of my baby.”
“Shrike” has a shanty feel — although I’m sure Irish purists would fight me for making that comparison. Hozier’s soft vocals remind that his voice is impressive even without invoking the intensity he’s known for. “Shrike” is another song on this album to make use of the string instruments in the full production. It’s gentle enough that it is reminiscent of quietly swaying water, soft enough to be a lullaby.
Songs such as “No Plan,” “Talk” and “Be” are fun, but you could play them back to back and I couldn’t tell you where one began and the other ended. The excitement of new music starts to wear off as the album blends together.
The final track of the album “Wasteland, Baby!” is different from Hozier’s other music, on his previous album and this one. The synthesizer music adds a soft magical quality, while the word-heavy, poetic lyrics retain Hozier’s staple style. After a dull second half, Hozier ends his sophomore album on a high note, proving once again that he is an artist like no other.
Wasteland, Baby! shows Hozier is at his most powerful while singing mournful ballads with strong production value. Strings, choirs and synthesizer music bring out the best of his lyrics that grieve lost love. Some of his rock/pop tracks can be fun, but they don’t impress after you’ve listened to the first one or two or three of them. Hozier has proved once again that he is a force to be reckoned with.