- 04 Mar 19
HOZIER BACK ON TOP WITH A CLASS NEW ALBUM
Hozier’s sophomore album Wasteland, Baby! is on its way to hearts and minds all across the planet, arguably the most eagerly awaited album of the year-anywhere! Jackie Hayden samples the album track-by-track, so you know what’s on offer…
1 ‘Nina Cried Power’
The pounding drums intro brings instant reassurance that we are truly back in Hozierland. With soul-gospel legend Mavis Staples on board, the man from Wicklow proves he can mix it with the best on this inspirational vehicle that exudes the power and intensity of ‘Take Me To Church’. Lyrically it bends the knee towards those who before him have battled prejudice, namechecking a cavalcade of heroes - Dylan, Lennon, Billie Holiday, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone. “It’s not the wall it’s what behind it” scores a direct hit on the Trump monster too.
2 ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’
On this tender guitar-driven soul-classic in the making, Hozieracknowledges the influence of jazz such as Duke Ellington and Chet Baker and vintage evergreen hits but also allows his golden voice free range. Indeed, his vocal work has a more carefree feel to it as he traces aspects of his personal music journey and the toll it has taken on his energy reserves. "I came in from the outside, burned out from a joyride," is how he puts it.
The video for this finger-clickin’ track drew predictably homophobic reactions from The Gruntlings, while a more civilised audience helped it rev up anticipation of the album’s arrival. With a swelling organ and gospel voices it exudes a throbbing sexuality that’s almost visceral, and slips in a reference to big screen dancing legend Fred Astaire “in sequins” as if using dance as a symbol for sex.
4 ‘No Plan’
The bluesy, bass-heavy ‘No Plan’ lyrically reflects the man’s resilience going forwardagainst a sturdy guitar backdrop that recalls the Isley Brothers of ‘Summer Breeze’ fame blended with suggestions of Led Zeppelin and jazz-funk. It’s six minutes long, allowing Hozier and his band space and time to dig deeper into the groove.
Skittering drums and Hendrix-lite guitar figures grab you right from the getgo. Somewhere along the way Hozier admits to a close friend that “it’s gin o’clock where I wake up” and excavates the romance of dancing one’s heart real slow to the Rockettes. It’s an infectious blues-laden track that feels like the work of a man and his cohorts having a damn good time and not caring who knows it.
6 ‘To Noise Making (Sing)’
Sheer soul/gospel joy! If this doesn’t make you want to gather at the river, I don’t know what will, as Hozier celebrates having the power to express his feelings and thoughts without being bothered by the reaction, and encourages fans to follow suit. The line “You don’t have to sing it nice, but honey, sing it strong” tells you where this is going and where it came from.
7 ‘As It Was’
‘As It Was’ has an open-air, acoustic Arabic feel underpinning Hozier’s widescreen vocal that is even more effective when it almost becomes a mere whisper. With folk-jazz guitar touches of Bert Jansch it hints at Hozier’s advances in the sophisticated songwriting department. It builds organically from guitar and restrained voice, showcasing his vocal dexterity, while the keyboard and strings evoke a sense of fragility, supporting references to “the drug, the dark, the light, the flame."
A shrike is a bird that kills its prey by pecking at its neck and skull, but may also impale said prey on barbed wire and garden forks. You can draw your own conclusions, but musically this is Hozier at his most stately, a majestic slowie that begins with delicate guitar figures and evokes the era when English folk-rock was exploring its rich past a la Renbourn and Jansch again.
9 ‘Talk Refined’
There’s a slow, sombre slinkiness strutting under the velveteen vocals as they sashay across your speakers heading somewhere else. It features atmosphere-laden guitars, a churchy organ and lyrically it shows a respectful wariness towards sex.
Legendary soul keyboardist Booker T. Jones adds a distinctive texture on a blues/rock workout as Hozier takes a look at the world, doesn’t avoid the bad stuff and encourages us to do likewise. It makes a fine companion to ‘Talk Refined’ with its distorted guitars and its exhortation to let love reign over all.
11 ‘Dinners & Diatribes’
This country-tinged rocker kicks off like a brisker, third millennium ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ but as it amps up the production values it soon morphs into a stop-start floor-filler cum jam session. According to the man himself, it’s about “about the crushing tedium of social obligations” but after its infectious rhythms take up residence in your cranium you may not want to keep still.
12 ‘Would That I’
Quite simply, this is vintage Hozier. It’s acoustic-based and gospel-inflected and upbeat, replete with folky touches and wonderful harmonies. It has an intimacy we didn’t know we’d missed on the earlier tracks.
The presence of Booker T Jones again swells the album’s punchy funk touches in a rousing blues-gospel stomper with church choir overtones and a sumptuous chorus.
14 ‘Wasteland, Baby!’
This is a playfully subtle, folksy offering with a treated vocal whose tantalising emotional impact makes you wonder what delights it might unfold if sung straight. Lyrically is evokes an awareness, again, of world issues, including the damage we’re inflicting on the oceans and all who sail in her.
All told, Wasteland, Baby! puts Hozier back where he belongs, at the top. His craft is so well-defined that he convinces the listener that he wants every note, word and warble to count. Nothing is meant to be superfluous, it’s all there for a purpose. He can sing and play and express emotions that truly make your heart dance. And it does.