It is probably advisable to start with a disclaimer: I love Hozier to an almost unhealthy extent. That being said, I anxiously awaited the release of “Wasteland, Baby!”—Hozier’s first album drop in five years—like it was the birth of my own child. Now that the full album was released March 1, I can confidently say that, after years of forcing fans to constantly recycle material from his 2014 self-titled album, Hozier has delivered a work of the same startling beauty and lyrical power that made his first so memorable.
Although each song deserves its own paragraph, I will hit the high points. Months before the album’s release, Hozier dropped the first single, “Nina Cried Power” featuring Mavis Staples. An ode to civil rights activists, including Staples herself, the song is less acoustic-sounding than the bulk of Hozier’s work and signaled a newer, more powerful style that he explores on this album. This technique works best on the song “Movement,” my personal favorite on this album, which combines quiet, lyrically powerful verses with a soaring and impactful chorus.
It sounds simplistic, but this album is much louder than Hozier’s former album. While in Hozier terms, this is still far less digitized than most other artists of today, it is a noticeable shift for his style. “Wasteland, Baby!” is an album of ballads, while the previous featured a majority of soft acoustic tracks. I favor those songs as a matter of personal taste, but have heard from many people who welcome the lighter tone and more upbeat sound. Still, to my ears, some of the songs are in danger of sounding too similar upon first listen. Hozier’s real strength is when the only two features of a song are his voice and guitar, and the tracks where he taps into that are the ones that stand out.
What sets Hozier apart from other folk and rock artists is his lyrical genius. This is most prevalent on the track “Shrike,” in which Hozier compares his lover to the shrike, a bird of prey known for impaling its victims on thorns for later consumption. Hozier writes: “Driving alone, following your form/Hung like the pearl of some prey you had worn/Remember me love, when everyone/Is the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn.” It’s a beautiful song, and proves again that Hozier is, first and foremost, a poet. It would be as enjoyable to just read his lyrics as it is to listen to him sing them.
It seems that Hozier lives in an ethereal plane of existence where everything is a metaphor for forests and darkness and other nymph-like things. He writes lyrics like he was there at the dawning of the world and sings them like he’s crying out to the universe for salvation—if you think I am being dramatic, just give it a listen. To be honest, I would not have it any other way. Even with the more modern upbeat vibe of this new album, I was not disappointed. “Wasteland, Baby!” solidifies Hozier as one of the most talented songwriters and artists in a music scene where true uniqueness is increasingly hard to come by.