Hozier delivers a confident and masterful sophomore effort.
The highly-anticipated sophomore album by Hozier finally released last month, and after some careful rumination and countless listens, the time has come to deliver the verdict. Is Wasteland, Baby! a successful follow-up to 2014’s self-titled Hozier, or does it signal an early lapse for the promising artist?
‘Nina Cried Power’ (featuring Mavis Staples) is a brilliant opening track, with some awe-inspiring ballads that demonstrate, once again, Hozier’s raw talent and vocal range. ‘Almost (Sweet Music)‘ is, by comparison, slightly lower key but no less brilliant, with an excellent rhythm and warm heart that lifts it above most criticisms. ‘Movement’, which I already awarded a four star rating in my original review, remains one of Hozier’s most dazzling songs, with delightful harmonies and just a lick of the delicious darkness that runs through much of his work. ‘No Plan’, the first non-single on the album, is a snazzy and upbeat dance track with some stunning electric guitar work and thrilling lyrics.
‘Nobody’ is a nice gear shift, falling back on Hozier’s glorious voice to channel some of the pains of addiction and depression into an oddly-upbeat and melodic track. ‘To Noise Making (Sing)’ is an odd addition to the fare, with what appears to be the accompaniment of a considerable chorus to Hozier’s own, lone voice. Whilst this represents an intriguing innovation for the artist, it does also, unfortunately, resonate much less as a result. Fortunately, it’s followed up by ‘As It Was’, a spellbinding and chilling track which features little more than a light guitar plucking and Hozier’s melancholic vocals. This song, like ‘Movement’, taps into that same insatiable brooding that makes Hozier such a draw.
‘Shrike’ strongly delivers with some beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics and an absorbing guitar/drum accompaniment, transitioning nicely into ‘Talk’, which strangely enough, lets the instruments at Hozier’s disposal do most of the talking. Just as the formula starts to cement itself, ‘Be’ comes charging in to break the mold with a series of breakneck sparkling guitar riffs. ‘Dinner & Diatribes’ launches onto the scene with a similarly-astonishing energy, and a few moments of true brilliance as Hozier’s vocals are tested to their very limits. ‘Would That I’, like the fire which it’s lyrics describe, burns extremely brightly and passionately – it is, by far, the strongest song on an album that had already proven itself to be worthy.
The final two tracks don’t shirk away, though. ‘Sunlight’ is perhaps slightly too joyous to fit in with Hozier’s general MO, but at this stage in his career it’s understandable that we’d see the most experimentation and evolution in his sound, so it doesn’t seem fair to criticise it for trying to tread new ground. The album’s coda, the eponymous ‘Wasteland, Baby!’ is a gorgeous send-off, electing to channel the same country-rock stylings that worked so well for ‘From Eden’, accompanied by the rare sound of a gentle and restrained Hozier.
On the whole, Wasteland, Baby! is one of the most successful sophomore LPs that I’ve heard this decade, trumped only by Imagine Dragons‘ Smoke & Mirrors. The sheer extent of range and variety demonstrated in the album’s fourteen songs is a testament to an artist whose raw talent is objective. This is an unmissable album for anyone who is even a casual fan of indie rock, country or soul music, and an early shoe-in for my album of the year.
‘Wasteland, Baby!’ is out now, courtesy of Island Records.