We all saw it. A beautiful six foot four man graced the New York City subway on March 6 with flowing hair and an angelic face. Hozier took to the streets to perform classic hits, such as “Take Me to Church” and “Work Song,” as well as new singles from his second studio album Wasteland, Baby, which was released on March 1st. As the videos from the performance circulated on Twitter, we couldn’t help but wish that we had been taking the ACE downtown that day to catch a glimpse of the melodic and entrancing Irish singer who has once again charmed us with his unbreakable voice and unmatchable lyrics.
Wasteland, Baby is best understood in relation to Hozier’s first self-titled album, released in 2014. Wasteland, Baby seems to exist in a completely separate universe from Hozier, attesting the artist’s growth in those five tortuous years he made us wait for new content. Hozier was shrouded in evangelical light as he used religious imagery throughout the record, shown most prominently in his most famous single, “Take Me to Church.” “From Eden” references paradise directly from the words of the Bible and “Work Song” dispels religion in the name of the one you love. This prevalent godly imagery suddenly becomes replaced with visions of fire and destruction as the name of the new album may suggest.
In his first wave of new releases, Hozier gave us “Nina Cried Power” and “NBFWMB.” “Nina Cried Power” acts as an ode to the great musicians who came before him who used music as a means of protest. Collaborating with singer and civil rights activist, Mavis Staples, Hozier pays tribute to gospel music and R&B and tests these genres for himself. “NBFWMB” shows an edge to Hozier that may have been missed or glanced over in his first album as he explores different genres and styles.
These two songs, as well as “Shrike” and “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)” were first released on the Nina Cried Power EP released in September 2018. “Shrike” makes it onto the full-length album and produces a gut-wrenching anthem of realizing feelings too late. Hozier’s enchanting voice and sweet music overlay almost distracts from the sad story he tells in his smart and metaphoric lyrics.
One of his newest singles, “Almost (Sweet Music)” expresses a similar story of longing for something from the past. Hozier regards the past of music by name dropping popular songs and artists in his lyrics. Not always common in Hozier’s music, he gives us some upbeat songs that do not always speak of happy subjects, but are fun to dance to anyway. “To Noise Making (Sing)” portrays an entire gospel choir in your ears. “Sunlight” is probably the most pure love anthem on the album, yet relates to the theme of fire and heat that runs through the tracklist. “Dinner and Diatribes” relates back to that new edge that Hozier adds into his music. With haunting chords and funkier basslines, the new songs venture away from the light and airy feel of past songs such as “Like Real People Do,” yet are no less lyrically intelligent.
Towards the end of the album, Hozier really reveals the apocalyptic tone of the album. “Would That I” relays the destruction of a past relationship through the imagery of a forest fire. Fire being a recurring motif denotes passion, which can definitely seen throughout the album, as well as danger and destruction. The title track “Wasteland, Baby” closes out the album fittingly. This song juxtaposes the end of the world and the death of the sun with words of love. The song ends with the singer quitely announcing, “that’s it,” finally allowing the album to come to a close.
As Hozier moves through his career, his music inevitably goes through changes as each album so far manages to assume a different theme or motif. Hozier’s lyrics continue to be worth studying and noticing as he maintains one of the most skilled lyricists writing today. In the end, Hozier has successfully produced another album of immense musical stature as his first. But, as we watch him memorize busy New York commuters, are we really that surprised?