Where has Andrew Hozier-Byrne been the past five years?
Clearly, he’s no stranger to a good disappearing act. His debut, self-titled album “Hozier” (2014) was something no one had ever heard before. It was a beautiful fusion of all things soulful, from rhythm and blues and rock to gospel and jazz. His cunning, dark lyrics catapulted him into the spotlight.
If Hozier’s debut album was a shot to propel him into the scene, his sophomore album “Wasteland, Baby!” is the chaser to sweeten his stride.
In his last album, Hozier made a statement on homosexuality and religion with “Take Me to Church.” This time, the masterpiece opens with the driving “Nina Cried Power,” and he brings a voice to the power of protest.
Alongside Mavis Staples, who’s featured on the track, he shouts out legendary artists who’ve made their voices known: Nina Simone, John Lennon and James Brown. In an interview with Billboard, Hozier stated the song is an homage to American rock music and a celebration of its gospel and R&B roots.
He hits hard on his message about it not being the wake-up call that brings the change to prominent issues, but the rise up to make it happen. He belts, “It’s not the song, it is the singin’ / It's the heaven of the human spirit ringin’.” Staples delivers the most powerful line of the song, singing, “Power has been cried by those stronger than me / Straight into the face that tells you to rattle your chains / If you love bein’ free.”
Next up is “Almost (Sweet Music),” which is personally one of my favorites. Hozier got candid about this release on Instagram weeks prior to the full album’s release. “Almost” encapsulates the ability for music to procure a moment, particularly when trying to forget someone you once held close to your heart.
Of course, it’s Hozier’s usual sound with rhythm and blues and gospel roots, but beachier. Its rhythm is syncopated and he seamlessly weaves references to several songs to match his lyrics — “‘The Very Thought Of You’ and ‘Am I Blue’? / ‘A Love Supreme’ seems far removed / ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well,’ some other nights.”
Hozier definitely takes his sound in a more entertaining direction, but some songs are reminiscent of his old work. “Movement” harkens back to “Work Song.” The slow, driving rhythm builds to the chorus with a strong, soulful choir in the back to support Hozier’s broad vocals. It’s sensual and powerful, ebbing and flowing like the tide rising and sinking until it crashes to a robust close.
The artist consistently takes listeners on a journey. “No Plan” brings us to an underground jazz bar, where sweet cigar smoke sticks to the air and walls and the drinks are strong. His vocals are delicate over a driving guitar rhythm, and he takes a somber tone.
Hozier has stated his latest project contains apocalyptic themes, and “No Plan” is the first to exhibit them. He sings, “There’s no plan / There's no race to be run / The harder the rain, honey, the sweeter the sun,” and “There’s no plan, there’s no hand on the reign / As Mac explained, there will be darkness again.”
It wouldn’t be a Hozier album without some darkness — this comes in the form of “Shrike.” A shrike is, according to an article by BBC, a bird that quite literally stabs its prey in the back. They’re meat-eating birds who, once they capture their prey, take it and skewer it on massive thorns.
The BBC story says they sing sweetly, and an article from All About Birds says their size is comparable to a robin. From such a small, pretty bird, it’d be hard to expect it to be such a barbarous creature unless one witnessed it themselves. The same could be said of an imperfect relationship.
Hozier takes the symbolism to new heights when describing a disintegrating relationship, crooning, “I couldn't utter my love when it counted / Ah, but I'm singing like a bird 'bout it now / And I couldn't whisper when you needed it shouted / Ah, but I'm singing like a bird 'bout it now.” The line is picturesque of not doing or being enough for the one you love. He takes form in the shrike, and his significant other the thorn.
With “Wasteland, Baby!,” Hozier makes a triumphant return, tackling tough topics while maintaining his usual motifs. What isn’t a wasteland is the world with Hozier’s music in it.
Contact Abby Church at email@example.com.For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.