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Hozier surpasses expectations with long-awaited sophomore album

After what’s felt like a lifetime to many fans, Hozier has finally released his sophomore album, Wasteland, Baby! His earthy music and gentle demeanor have earned him nicknames such as “forest king,” “forest nymph,” “bog man,” “woodland wizard,” and any other name that implies being a resident/lord of the natural world. As ridiculous as some may think that is, his organic, soulful songs can easily give you that kind of mental state. Not to mention his magnetic poetry and ambient production that gives the music a complete, 3D sound.

“Nina Cried Power” was the title track featured on the EP that was released in September of last year. This particularly dynamic and commanding track, in which famous Gospel/R&B singer Mavis Staples is featured, overflows with passion and pays tribute to a number of artists who have spoken out about important social issues like civil rights. A key lyric, “It’s not the waking, it’s the rising,” makes the important statement that not just understanding and talking about such issues, but taking action and facing these obstacles directly is what ultimately makes changes.

“Almost (Sweet Music)” takes up a much more cheerful tune. In a way, it has a similar concept to “Nina Cried Power” in that it pays homage to a number of artists and songs. But this time, it’s more about showing a personal appreciation towards the music that Hozier’s loved and been comforted by throughout his life, such as Duke Ellington and Chet Baker. How he went about writing the lyrics is actually very clever, because he continuously incorporates the titles of some of these songs, seemingly classic Jazz songs in particular: “I wouldn’t know where to start, ‘Sweet Music’ playing ‘In The Dark.’ Be still ‘My Foolish Heart,’ don’t ruin this on me.”

“Movement” was the single released after “Nina Cried Power,” and proved to be a particular crowd favorite. It’s possibly the most intimately soulful and bluesy track; with Hozier’s gentle vocals in the verses that build up to a full, passionate exclamation accompanied by an echoing choir. In the bridge, they gradually build even more in intensity before they burst into the last section for the finale. It contains the seductive eeriness that fans are very familiar with, and has a stronger Gospel presence. This is the sort of enchanting song where you feel you could just sit back, close your eyes, and allow yourself to become immersed in the sound. Unless you’re watching the music video, which focuses on a dancer in an abandoned building. Throughout the video he’s joined, as though being taunted, by other figures that turn out to be himself. Watching the choreography that’s performed is stunning and fits so beautifully with the music; including the strange mysticality that comes with the mysterious pursuit of the dancer’s clones.

Now, Hozier has described the album as reflecting various responses to the current state of the world. “No Plan” embodies the attitude of “the world is gonna end, and there’s nothing that can save it now, so the two of us might as well just love;” while giving off a laid back and charming atmosphere. This is essentially best represented in the lines “There’s no plan, there’s no kingdom to come. But I’ll be your man if you got love to get done.”

“Nobody” has a fun, slightly funky Rock beat and from the beginning starts talking about living a lavished life, how he’s “done everything and [he’s] been everywhere.” And yet, he’s “had no love like your love,” the line which makes up the addictive pre-chorus that you can’t help but belt out. In one way, the song can be read as a letter to his lover, comparing them to all the other great experiences he’s had and saying how distraught he feels whenever they’re not around. Another translation is that this takes place after a breakup; that despite all his travelling and partying, nothing compares to the love he had. This track, particularly with lines like “I wouldn’t fall for someone I thought couldn’t misbehave,” is probably one of the more obvious examples of the incredible charisma that Hozier possesses.

“To Noise Making (Sing)” has a similar style in that it’s upbeat and fun, but it’s about the beauty of music and the euphoria that singing brings. It particularly brings attention to the memories and bliss of being a child and not caring when you sang a song incorrectly. The essence of it really can’t be said better than in the pre-chorus: “You don’t have to sing it right, but who could call you wrong? To put your emptiness to melody, your awful heart to song. You don’t have to sing it nice, but honey sing it strong, At best you’ll find a little remedy, at worst the world will sing along.” With the joyful Gospel sound and the chorus that literally tells you to “sing” over and over again, it’s blasphemy not to sing along to this track.

“As It Was” turns the tide and goes back to his rustic Blues that’s both beautiful and haunting. It’s apparently about a man returning to a past lover that he was either broken up with or separated from. At the start he talks about going down “a roadway, muddy and foxgloved.” This is the “path” he’s taking to get back. “Muddy” likely reflects the decision and therefore the past relationship, implying that it’s messy and even dangerous. “Foxgloved” refers to it being covered by the plant that’s known to be fairly short-lived and poisonous when not used carefully; supporting the former speculation. Based on the line, “whatever here that’s left of me is yours just as it was,” it sounds like he’s returning as a beaten-down man from whatever dark life experiences he’s had since leaving. Yet he’s hopeful of continuing the relationship the way it used to be, as much as he’s able; though wondering if this person has saved any of their old love for him. In this way he reminisces about their past and the good they experienced together, reflects on the darkness that took him away, and describes the love he feels through Hozier’s renowned dark poetry.

Similarly rustic but instead lulling and folky, “Shrike” is a bittersweet love song that also featured on the EP. He’s regretful for not expressing his love as much as he should have before his lover left him. He expresses the irony of saying this too late in lines like “I couldn’t utter my love when it counted, ah but I’m singing like a bird ’bout it now.” The title fits into his aforementioned macabre style of poetry; as the line “Remember me love when I’m reborn, as the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn” refers to how the bird, called a shrike, likes to impale its prey on a thorn. He uses this phrase to describe how he wants to rush back to his lover, the way a shrike would rush to a thorn. Due to the separation and his desire to get back to his lover, it sounds tied into “As It Was.” However, the sound and story feels far less chilling.

“Talk” is about seduction. The lyrics of the verses in particular are actually very interesting, because in the first Hozier tells the story of Orpheus, a famous poet of Greek mythology, and his wife Eurydice. He creates metaphors for the affection and charm he’d bear as a lover, like “I’d be the voice that urged Orpheus when her body was found. I’d be the choiceless hope in grief that drove him underground.” Orpheus was an especially talented and charming musician that, when he found his wife dead, played a song that made even the gods cry. This beautiful, tender voice is likely the one referred to in the first line. The grievous hope of the second refers to the love and devotion that Orpheus felt so deeply, he journeyed to the Underworld in order to see her again. In the second verse, he continuously makes similar promises to the one he’s trying to seduce. The song basically exudes the feeling of temptation; not only in the way he’s tempting the listener, but how he himself feels as well: “I won’t deny I’ve got in my mind now, all the things I would do. So I try to talk refined for fear that you find out, how I’m imaginin’ you.” The musicality enhances that feeling with its sound similar, but even deeper and slower than “No Plan;” while accompanied by Hozier’s gentle but bold vocals.

The lyrics of “Be” are interesting as well. It’s a love song, but many of the metaphors he uses refer to current events. The general message is Hozier telling his lover to “be as [they’ve] always been,” as in love him the same way despite the drastic changes that may happen in the world. Early on he uses apocalyptic references to poetry and religion, such as Atlas losing heart and dropping the sky, and a gyre opening to destroy the world. He also refers to the possible miracle of life starting over and/or reverting back to its natural state. The second verse, however, gets political. “When the man who gives the order is born next time ’round on the boat sent back” refers to leaders (Trump) that turn away immigrants and refugees, and them being reborn as one of those people that they originally rejected. “When the bodies starvin’ at the border are on TV givin’ people the sack” speaks of the same immigrants being rejected, and the day roles are reversed so those same people rise to power. It was a clever way to weave these powerful statements into the simpler theme of asking his lover to stay true to him. He initially tricks you into believing it’s another tragically poetic love song, but suddenly gives you jolt of reality.

“Dinner and Diatribes” immediately gets your head bobbing with an upbeat groove produced by a fast-paced, bluesy guitar riff and heavy drum beats. Here, Hozier’s attending a trivial social event, but is looking at a recent lover and expressing how badly he wants to leave in order to be with them again. It feels like a continuation of “Talk,” as though he succeeded in seducing them and now can’t stop thinking about how they’ll be again once they finally get away from everyone else.

“Would That I” is very folky, particularly in the verses that are sweet, light, and embody the earthy tone of Hozier’s Forest Father reputation. But the chorus surprises you, breaking from the gentle lull and making way for an exploding performance where he belts his heart out. The vocals and melody stay sweet, but become powerful enough to send a shock through your body. The symbolism is fittingly natural, as he describes his past love as being like a willow tree in the first verse. Though she was like shelter to him, the relationship was doomed to fail, the way a tree should expect a saw. He expresses being sorrowful in this outcome, but suddenly in the chorus he only sees the beautiful and blinding light of his new lover, who’s represented as a fire burning the “wood” of past relationships. Despite fire often being seen as destructive, he describes it as what brings his heart back to life, even comparing the ash to be “soft and pure as snow.” As though to further illustrate the Forest Father oozing out of this song, even the title is a wordplay that can be translated as “the wood that I loved before.”

Being like the opposition to “No Plan,” which spoke of the end of the world, “Sunlight” talks about how Hozier always embraced the night and found home in the darkness. Now, suddenly he’s drawn to the “sunlight” of another person’s love. He once again uses Greek mythology, saying he would gladly be Icarus and fly up to the sunlight. This is from the story of Daedalus and Icarus escaping Crete by using built wings, but Icarus flew to close to the sun so that the wax on the wings melted and he fell into the sea. It’s like Hozier’s saying this person is the light at the end of the dark tunnel and he would sacrifice anything for it. Rather than matching this brighter theme to an upbeat style, it instead comes across as a bit of an edgier, but passionate love song.

The final track and album namesake, “Wasteland, Baby!,” you might expect to be a powerful, catchy anthem that ends the record with a bang. Instead, it’s slow, folky, light, and soothing. There’s an unexpected wavering effect on Hozier’s vocals, that along with an acoustic guitar, are the main focus; though backed by some soft instrumentation. It reflects on the end of the world once more. Hozier has said it’s like a contrast to the start of the album, where people are being strong and taking a stand to fight the wrongs in society. This song kindof looks at the worst case scenario with vague acceptance, though in a lighthearted way. Like even if all else fails and Earth dies despite all our efforts, we’ll love through it anyway and try to make the most of life together while we can.

Many of the tracks tie in statements and themes of the destruction of the world, which was generally the intent for the overall story. But he wove this theme into a lot of love songs; like he’s trying to say that despite all the horrors happening, love will prevail. A bit of a cheesy statement, but it seems to be his way of offering some optimism to contradict the hopelessness. The musicality, as expected, is utterly breathtaking. The haunting backup vocals, the sweet and soulful tones of Hozier’s smooth voice, the fulfilling instruments, and the atmospheric production all create a group of beautifully crafted pieces. Wasteland, Baby! was a record definitely worth the wait.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSye8OO5TkM