Photo Credit: Rachael Wright
In 2013, when Irish musician and songwriter Andrew Hozier-Bryne a.k.a Hozier pleaded “Take Me to Church” on his debut single, the effect proved to be the reverse, as legions of music listeners around the world made him the new rock deity. The song topped multiple international charts, and in the U.S. alone it reached platinum status six times via combined downloads and streams. The response so far to his recently released second full-length album Wasteland, Baby! suggests that few have strayed from the flock – at least not in America, where it entered the Billboard chart at number one.
With all of this going on, Hozier was probably already looking for ways to keep himself somewhat grounded, both in his own eyes as well as that of the listening public. He may not be going full-on Andy Kaufman, i.e. subjecting himself to a job as a restaurant busboy (that we know of), but nonetheless a number of key parts on Wasteland, Baby! seem to reflect this notion. “Power has been cried by those stronger than me,” Hoizer acknowledges right away on the opening cut, “Nina Cried Power.” The title alone turns the spotlight to the legendary Nina Simone, as the song mentions, among others including: Bob Dylan, John Lennon and B.B. King. Lest he face accusations of being simply a name-dropper, Hozier recruits an actual, flesh-and-blood music icon, Mavis Staples, to provide vocals on the track, with the underlying message seemingly that Hozier recognizes that he’s not in the same league as these people.
Once this ideal has been sufficiently conveyed to his listeners, Hozier seems to be addressing himself primarily in “To Noise Making (Sing),” where he does his best to remind himself of where he came from: “You used to sing for the f*ck of it // So honey sing and sing and sing…” The word “sing” is repeated in the song seventy-two times, just in case anyone didn’t catch the… uh… subtlety. The f-bomb in that song is also used interchangeably with “love,” as many still like to believe the two need not be mutually exclusive in the age of Tinder. While romantic relationships as a theme in popular music are as common as an I-IV-V chord progression, Hozier actually comes off as his most poignant and unflinchingly honest when approaching just that on the album’s first single “Almost (Sweet Music).” “I’m almost me again,” the narrator tells a former lover about his new one, which seems like (almost) good news until he reveals the reason: “She’s almost you.” Some therapist would earn every penny of their hourly fee with this sentiment.
Most of Wasteland, Baby! is at the very least on solid ground musically. “Dinner and Diatribes” serves up a sped-up “Day Tripper”-like guitar riff, while “Nobody” goes and rides the rails between two classic rock tracks, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” and Mitch Ryder’s “Devil with a Blue Dress On”. “Talk” epitomizes what’s proven to be one of the Hozier’s greatest strengths, namely creating a perfect symmetry between a song’s guitar and bass parts. However, the album’s best track is “No Plan,” which opens with a brief 90’s-style guitar tease before quickly giving way to an impossible-to-ignore stomping beat.
“No Plan” as a title is just a bit ironic given Wasteland, Baby!’s meticulous production style, which will probably not win over anyone who seeks a bit more edge and rawness in their rock (hoping to catch Hozier on stage this summer? Wouldn’t try the Vans Warped Tour). The album’s title inevitably invokes the thought of Hozier’s fellow Irish rockers U2 and their 1991 classic Achtung Baby, the release which ushered in the phase of their career where Bono and company left taking themselves too seriously (or at least as seriously) behind, and came off more like they were just out for a pint of Guinness and a good time. Hozier may reach such a point eventually, but in the meantime what he does will most likely not leave the masses unsatisfied.