To the most loyal amongst you (don’t worry our expectations are very low), you will remember our last post from a few months back, looking forward to the musical year ahead. I know we shouldn’t have favourites but there was one artist whose album I was particularly excited for, who takes the form of a soft-spoken, humble Irish man. With luscious locks and an almost constantly warm disposition, he is definitely what your nanma would describe as ‘such a lovely young man’. The world is a better place with Hozier in it. And his new album, Wasteland, Baby!, released last Friday, can certainly confirm that. An emotional and spiritual journey through the soul and out into the mess that is our world, Hozier’s album is here to challenge us, which is not something that we should be so afraid of…
The album opens with Hozier’s mighty collaborated single alongside Booker T. Jones and Mavis Staples, Nina Cried Power. Referencing the legacies that have used their music for change such as Lennon, Patti Smith and Nina Simone, Hozier sets up the theme for the rest of the album: our world is in pieces and it can only get worse, but there is strength, beauty and hope still to be found. And before you all cringe into yourselves like quiche lorraines, no one’s calling out Trump or gunning for the next Children in Need single. In his own words, the songs deal with the ‘bonfire of our times’ but always with a ‘wry smile to it’. Where some songs ‘dance around the bonfire and have a bit of fun, others scream into it’ (like Nina) and others are just ‘in the centre of it’. Despite the difficulty of a subject such as this, both for the artist to convey and for the reader to digest, the result is an album that is beautiful yet challenging.
In its darkest moments, songs like No Plan and Be imagine what the end of the world might look like, particularly in Be. Over a foreboding guitar riff and stomp-clap rhythm, Hozier combines epic images of St Peter at the gates and Atlas with images of our times such as ‘bodies starvin’ at the border’ and seas rising. Yet despite the doom and gloom of all of these songs, Hozier’s ‘wry smile’ shines through in the acceptance of chaos and revelling in the fact that there’s nothing we can do about it. Irish humour – dark but grand.
But if you thought that Hozier was just going to leave us with end-of-the-world imagery to marinate with then buckle up buttercups. Known for his passionate, sometimes dark and often deeply sensual lyrics, a lot of the album deals with the romance that pursues in the face of the world’s end, with the two being compared repeatedly. The title track, Wasteland, Baby!, which rounds off the album, summarises this comparison in its opening line: ‘All the fear and fire of the end of the world / Happens each time a boy falls in love with a girl’. And despite it not being as explicit of a comparison, similar themes appear in As It Was and Shrike (one of the pre-released singles). These three tracks take on a more folky tone without the backing choir, which certainly brings out the darker sides of love, such as addiction and obsession, in a far more haunting way.
As mentioned prior to this digression into the end of the world and all things nihilistic, there are songs that shine through the gloom providing nothing but passion and uplift. Occasionally, it falls short of the bar set by the rest of the album, such as in Sunlight and To Noise Making (Sing). Although the light tone is refreshing, there is a slight happy-clappy ring to them as a result of a repetitive chorus. This mars the authenticity of the message, particularly when set against the depth of the rest of the album. Hozier hits it right with Almost (Sweet Music) and Nobody, which bear a similar tone to Jackie and Wilson and Someone New from his first album. There is a smiling lightness to these songs that only Hozier’s voice could add the right hint of passion to without over-doing it.
For me, the highlight of the album comes in the most beautiful, passionate song of them all. Soul and blues lead the way, allowing it to sit in perfect balance between the hopefulness and despair on the album. Describing someone dancing and the intense feelings that are awakened in watching, Movement is similar to some of the Florence and the Machine songs in that it begins by slowly stirring inside of you, building upon that throughout the song before giving it everything in the last minute. And it is certainly the song where Hozier’s voice impresses the most, as only a voice so full of soul and warmth but cut through with raw sensitivity could put across the intensity of a song like this. Although not a dance song, it does incite the desire to just move and express oneself, rather like an emotional interpretive dancer. My neighbours across the road have been spoilt.
It is Movement in particular (certainly without disregarding the rest of the album), that made me think about music’s purpose today. So often in music released today, songs are written to provide the younger generations with an escape. Be it a dance track that transports you to Ibiza for 4 minutes, an R&B number that gives you a glimpse into the rich and glam life or, in my case, Anderson Paak or The BeeGees taking me to a sunshine-soaked, care-free funk paradise. A lot of the time, we look to music to lift us up and far away from confronting reality, or even our own feelings.
Now of course, this is not a critique, music should have the power to transport us somewhere better – I rely on it for that on the daily. But this album has done the opposite. Neither aggressively nor superficially, Hozier’s music causes us to face what is going on inside and outside ourselves. In each song, we are challenged to feel, to question the world and the full spectrum of emotions that are being triggered within us, allowing that to disturb and heal our thoughts. We still experience the elation of good music, but it comes from within rather than from a fantasy. It’s an element of blues music that Hozier has fused so flawlessly into his music; singing of the blues in order to cure the blues. It’s something that our delicate souls need more of and definitely something that music needs more of.
I could go on for pages and PAGES wringing out every possible significance and meaning behind Wasteland, Baby!, endlessly praising Hozier for the voice and music that carries it and rambling on about how important it is. But you wouldn’t read it. HOWEVER, isn’t it refreshing to have an artist write music that makes you feel like you can?
Thank you Hozier for writing the songs that we wish more people were writing.
September 15th – Symphony Hall, Birmingham
September 16th – De Montfort Hall, Leicester
September 17th – St David’s Hall, Cardiff
September 19th – 02 Apollo, Manchester
September 20th – Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield
September 22nd – Newcastle City Hall, Newcastle Upon Tyne
September 24th – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
September 25th – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
September 27th – Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge
September 28th – 02 Guildhall Southampton, Southampton
September 30th/October 1st/3rd/4th/5th – London Palladium, London
To buy tickets: https://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Hozier-tickets/artist/1896592