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Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’ Songs to Describe Stages of a Relationship

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

I was never one to be into “break-up albums” or songs about heartbreak until recently, when I went through one myself! I found that a lot of songs I’ve previously listened to had a change of meaning to me as I was going through the stages of my relationship. One album that I’ve had on repeat since its release is Hozier’s third album: “Unreal Unearth.” Released in August 2023, the theme of love and loss was always apparent to me, but seeing myself view the songs differently throughout the months and stages of my relationship made me find more beauty in the songs and overall concept of the album. As such, I wanted to detail a few of my favorites and how they relate to the trajectory of a love lost. 

Track 3: “First Time” 

“When was the last time? 

C’mere to me, when was the last time?

Some part of me must have died 

The final time you called me baby”

I find this particular song to be an arguable beginning to the story of the lost love in “Unreal Unearth,” after Parts one and two of “De Selby.” Interestingly enough, this song in particular goes through the stages of a relationship, changing the chorus slightly to reflect the difference in time from, “the first time that you called me ‘baby’ / each time that you called me ‘baby’ / the final time you called me ‘baby.’” The song originally reads hopeful and loving, especially when including the upbeat strings and instrumental and the singer’s conversational tone. However, there is an abrupt change in the last part of the song, which details arguments, silence, and the eventual separation of the two lovers. However, not all hope is lost – as the singer details the saying goodbye, the last lines sing, “but some part of me came alive, the final time you called me ‘baby.’”

This song perfectly encapsulates the love songs together for me in a way that’s easy to understand. The song itself follows the timeline of a relationship; from falling in love, enjoying the relationship, to the eventual breakdown of the two until the singer is left by themselves. However, as some other songs suggest, the breakup of the relationship is not meant to be all negative. Rather, along with the bad, it is a new opportunity for the singer to be with themselves, take care of themselves, and otherwise grow separately. 

Track 4: “Francesca”

“I would still be surprised I could find you,

Darlin’, in any life

If I could hold you for a minute,

Da-, darlin’, I would do it again”

Released as the debut single three months before the album’s anticipated release, “Francesca” is a bold beginning coupled with passionate vocals about the undying love the singer holds for the title-holder. This song is the most explicit example of following the story of “Dante’s Inferno,” a walk-through of the nine circles of hell by Dante and the ancient Roman poet, Virgil. While in the second circle, Lust, Dante and Virgil come across Francesca da Rimini, a noblewoman who cheated on her husband, Gianciotto, with his brother, Paulo. She and Paulo are both murdered by Gianciotto and evidently sent to hell, but Francesca never makes a plea of innocence or regret.

The song then is told from the perspective of a young man, Paulo, who does not regret his affair with Francesca, even though it sends both of them to their ultimate demise. Rather, the love between the two is so strong that all deleterious effects are irrelevant, as the love and intimacy is enough. This song is perhaps the most passionate love song on the album for another person, and is a great example of the beginning and honeymoon phase of a relationship where you feel like you have found the one that you would do anything for. 

Track 5: “I, Carrion (Icarian)”

“Once I had wondered what was holdin’ up the ground

But I can see that all along, love, it was you all the way down

Leave it now, I am sky-bound

If you need to, darling, lean your weight to me”

Following the storyline of legends to real life, “I, Carrion (Icarian),” the next song on the tracklist, is a completely somber undertaking than that of the previous track. Heavily reliant on strings and soft lyricism, the song lyrics tell the story of Icarus, a man who flies too close to the sun and ultimately meets his demise due to his hubris. While the perspective is that of Icarion, the lover is described as the Earth – resilient, loving, and caring. The singer knows they will meet their demise, but all they asks is that the Earth doesn’t fall away from them as well.

The instrumentals and lyricism in this song is incredibly emotional, and the praise the singer holds for their lover is heartbreaking when you understand how their lives are inherently different. I find this song to be the beginning of the end of a relationship – there is still an undying love for the other person that is hard to over articulate, but along with that, there’s a bitter understanding that it will not last. It’s an incredibly hard stage to settle in, as you know that anything after this realization will lead to the end of the relationship, though you understand it must happen.

Track 15: “Unknown / Nth” 

“Do you know, I could break beneath the weight

Of the goodness, love, I still carry for you?

That I’d walk so far just to take

The injury of finally knowing you”

“Unknown / Nth” is perhaps one of the most hard hitting songs on the whole album, and for good reason. The song is instrumentally sparse until a climax where the subject begins belting his pain over the lost relationship, burdened with love for the other still while understanding that the other has done him immense wrong. The title draws upon the follow up of the relationship – the singer is okay with being alone, separated from the other, but “it’s more the being unknown” that is excruciating to deal with after a lost relationship.

This is the quintessential sad breakup song. The singer is detailing how hopeful they were during the relationship, only for it to end on bad terms where the singer feels completely lost. But rather than wishing for the loved one back, what’s more saddening is the understanding that the breakup is needed, but losing the intimacy and deep, shared connection with someone is incredibly difficult to cope with. Along with the instrumental and passionate singing, “Unknown / Nth” perfectly encapsulates feeling lost within yourself after leaving a soured relationship. 

Track 14: “Abstract (Psychopomp)”

“The feeling came late,

I’m still glad I met you

The memory hurts, 

But does me no harm”

After the sorrow of a song such as “Unknown / Nth,” “Abstract (Psychopomp)” offers a reflexive look at a past relationship without the critical analysis of the singer’s feelings. Borrowing again from legends and mythology, a psychopomp is a spiritual guide to help bring souls to the land of the dead. Instead of being a foreboding or evil entity, a psychopomp is non-judgemental and is only there to help guide a soul to their destination. Very fitting for the thematic aspects of the album, the singer is finally grieving the death of their relationship in a non-judgemental route, instead deciding to finally reach death, or a new beginning.

I view this song as the stage of a relationship where you are able to count your losses and are far enough past grieving the relationship to contextualize yourself stepping onto a new path. While the singer is still hurt from the past relationship, and they are accepting that what is done is done, and that there is more than just the end (death). I find this stage of a relationship to be the most internally aimless, which the song captures well. What is next after this relationship has ended? Is there more for down the line?

Track 8: “Who We Are”

“Darling, we sacrificed

We gave our time to somethin’ undefined

This phantom life sharpens like an image

But it sharpens like a knife”

Grieving hasn’t stopped just yet! The singer in “Who We Are” continues to look back on his past relationship, and instead of focusing specifically on his past lover, there is more emphasis placed on the both of them and their relationship. The singer focuses on the two past lovers who are eclipsed by their own circumstances where their love was not going to flourish regardless of their own efforts. The singer acknowledges that they did try to make the relationship work out, but it was not destined for the two. Furthermore, the song has a lyrical break where the singer is essentially screaming, which is one of my favorite aspects of any emotional song. The instrumental during this point in the song gradually keeps building until the noise of the background and the vocals merge, immediately followed by sparse instrumentals again and a calm outro. 

This particular song is one of my favorites because it continues to follow the strong theme of understanding the logic of the relationship failing, yet continuing to feel the emotional consequences regardless. You are able to feel the emotional buildup throughout the song until it hits a high point and immediately comes down, which I find very fitting for the emotions that come after a breakup. Logic and reasoning and your emotions can conflict even when the breakup is understood to be the best for you, though it comes with an emotional cost.

Track 10: “All Things End”

“If there was anyone to ever get through this life

With their heart still intact, they didn’t do it right

The last time I felt your weight on my chest, you said,

‘We didn’t get it right, but love, we did our best’”

Out of all songs that are directly speaking to the past lover, “All Things End” is the most apologetic and non-judgemental. The singer has come to a point where, again, they realize that the relationship was fought for, but it ultimately wasn’t able to survive. Like the title shows, the relationship ending does not have to have negative connotations, but is merely a new stage in life. This is also most emblematic in the almost gospel singing towards the end of the song. Instead of fostering resentment, the singer has entered a new era where they are almost celebrating the end of the relationship. 

This stage of a relationship – looking back at the failed relationship without malice or bitterness – is one that should be celebrated. While not felt by a lot of people, being able to celebrate the relationship for just existing, successful or not, is a progressive and emotionally mature way of looking at the relationship in its totality. After being able to grieve in a healthy matter, focusing on what’s next for you in your life is ultimately what’s best for you. 

Track 16: “First Light”

“It creeps into the corner as the moment fades

A voice your body jumps to callin’ out your name,

But after this I’m never gonna be the same

And I am never going back again”

As the final track of the studio album, “First Light” is vastly positive and celebratory of the beauty of life. The song does away with referencing or speaking to the past lover directly, but the lyricism follows that of the singer entering life with a new set of eyes. The singer says that they will never be the same again, but this is not referenced negatively. Instead, it’s a catalyst for the singer entering this new era of appreciation and gratefulness of their current life – feeling like they’re seeing everything in a new light. 

This is by far the most positive relationship song that I’ve seen from Hozier. The song itself is instrumentally laced with background vocals and strings that give great emotional resonance with the song and its message. Furthermore, this song perfectly encapsulates what it feels like when you are fully healed and stepped away from a failed relationship. The feeling of freedom and seeing the world with a new pair of appreciative eyes is hard to recreate, and entering such a stage is immensely rewarding. 

All in all, Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” is a phenomenal piece of music that I believe cannot get enough credit. As one of my favorite albums, I have personally experienced and reacted to the various songs on the project differently throughout my past romantic relationship. I believe that with such strong messaging, beautiful lyricism, and enchanting instrumentals, having your music be relatable in so many different situations is a testament of the overall quality of your work. “Unreal Unearth” is arguably one of the best albums on telling the story of a failed relationship, dealing with love, loss, grief, and healing. I hope the songs will impact you as much as they have for me. 

Belma Hodzic has been a staff writer for the Michigan State University Chapter of Her Campus since spring of 2022. Belma Hodzic is a junior at Michigan State University. A student of MSU's James Madison College, she is seeking a dual-degree in Comparative Cultures and Politics and World Politics, while double-minoring in Film Studies and Women and Gender Studies. She aspires to go into filmmaking or documentary production in the aim of representing marginalized communities and bringing culture into conversation. When she isn't studying, she enjoys exploring the horror genre and all things creepy. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, watching and analyzing movies, as well as spending time with her friends.