It’s been five years since Abdrew Hozier-Byrne has released a studio album. His freshman album self-titled, “Hozier,” took everyone to church in 2014. Now, after a long anticipated return, Hozier released his second album, “Wasteland, Baby!” on March 1. The title is a preface to the apocalyptic, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it vibe that the album gives off.
The opening song, “Nina Cried Power,” featuring Mavis Staples, is a celebration of American rock and roll, gospel and R&B. The song references Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, John Lennon, James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Mavis Staples, Patti Smith and Marvin Gaye—singers all known for their influence in societal change. It’s hard not to sing along when this somewhat politically charged, bluesy song cries, “Power!”
The start of the album is truly inspired. The first four songs are all uniquely catchy. “Almost (Sweet Music),” the second track on the album, is reminiscent of his first album but slightly more upbeat. Hozier has an undeniably distinct voice, and his gorgeous vocals complete this easy-going song. The third track, “Movement,” is entrancing, and “No Plan” is devilishly smooth. He also writes all of his own lyrics on the album, a thing very few artists can say in today’s music industry.
Unfortunately, after the opening four songs, the album falls flat. It’s not that the songs aren’t good; it’s just that they feel too similar and repetitve. That being said, some of the tracks still caught my attention. “Shrike” took me back to the simplicity of his first album. The song almost mirrors “Cherry Wine,” one of my all-time favorites of his. To me, the similarities could not have been unintentional. After some digging, I learned that a shrike is a carnivorous bird, which now brings light to his lyrics, “I couldn’t utter my love when it counted/ But I’m singing like a bird about it now/ And I couldn’t whisper when you needed it shouted/ But I’m singing like a bird about it now.”
“Cherry Wine” was a song about an abusive relationship, and “Shrike” seems to be its sequel. The abused (Hozier) in the relationship has now returned transformed but not for the better. His abusive partner transformed him into someone he is not proud of, and it is all her doing (“All of my goodness is gone with you now”). The song is deceptively beautiful—hiding the sinister message I believe it carries.
I couldn’t write a review without addressing the song about which the album is named. “Wasteland, Baby!” is more of a love letter than anything else. According to the song, the apocalypse is near, but his love for a girl gives him hope. Only Hozier could make doomsday seem romantic.
In my eyes, Hozier can do no wrong. However, this album was not what I hoped it would be. I wanted so badly to give this album a raving five-star review, but it would be generous to give it four. His pessimistic view of life’s purpose brings a tiresome sound. Hozier is incredibly gifted, and the album is good—just not great.
Additionally, Hozier will be at the Hinterland Music Festival in Saint Charles, Iowa this summer. If interested, go online to hinterlandiowa.com to buy tickets.