When Hozier released his “Nina Cried Power” EP, and later his single “Movement” last year, it had been almost five years since the Irish singer-songwriter captivated the world with “Take Me to Church.” Upon listening to “Nina Cried Power,” as a Hozier fan, I was immediately excited to see what he was going to create with his newest album. But like movie trailers for a mediocre summer blockbuster, his EPs contained the best parts of his newly-released sophomore album “Wasteland, Baby!”
That’s not to say that the album is bad. Hozier is a fantastic and expressive vocalist; the single “Movement” is a clear example of the sheer ability and power the 28-year-old singer is able to harness. But, not even Hozier’s voice can lift the at times monotonous sound of “Wasteland, Baby!”
The album was written within the last year. The singer-songwriter spent much of his hiatus in his homeland of Ireland to reconnect to his former self, or the Hozier that came before the singer’s debut album, “Hozier.” Since its release, major societal and environmental factors (both good and bad) have shaped our world. Hozier, although not in the public eye, was keenly paying attention and conceptualized his album as “about enjoying taking part in a cultural wasteland or a moral wasteland.”
The album’s title, “Wasteland, Baby!” comes from the dread he felt watching the Doomsday Clock being moved to 2 minutes to “midnight,” due to unchecked climate change and looming threats of nuclearization. Hozier tackles this concept with a grace rarely seen in modern artists; melancholic and intimate, his lyrics read like poetry. In the title track he softly croons, as if almost underwater, “All the fear and the fire of the end of the world happens each time a boy falls in love with a girl.”
Political commentary and activism is nothing new for the Irish artist. His breakthrough hit wasn’t, as most people think, written about a relationship: “Take Me To Church” came from the musician’s frustration with the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and its domination over the government and culture of Ireland. “Nina Cried Power,” a send up song to civil right activists like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Mavis Staples—who is featured on the album—is probably the best song on the album. “Wasteland, Baby!” also exemplifies Hozier as a well-read and intellectual artist; in the grungy, drum-heavy “No Plan,” he cites astrophysicist Katie Mack’s philosophy of the death of the universe, and in “Almost (Sweet Music),” he pays homage to American jazz legends like Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.
While Hozier’s writing is exemplary and there are a number of great songs on “Wasteland, Baby!” the album falters as a whole. The 14-song album feels bloated and the pacing is erratic. As he jumps from existential to optimistic songs, Hozier doesn’t let a consistent mood develop over the album. It opens explosively with the first couple of songs but Hozier struggles, especially in the middle, to make the 57-minute runtime feel diverse. I found it hard to remember most of the songs in the middle and they all seemed to blend into each other.
Therein lies my key issue with this album: the concept and the production of the album is superior, but aside from the singles, there’s nothing “new” on the album. Songs like “To Noise Making (Sing)” and “Sunlight” are not unique, they’re just rehashes of songs we’ve heard five years ago. Listeners hear a new sound being formulated on this album in some songs, but it feels that “Wasteland, Baby!” could have benefited from a heavy amount of editing and reworking.
Following Hozier’s meteoric rise to fame, the artist has the world looking to him to create. I think in a way, his skyrocketing popularity threw him off. The album feels at times like he’s singing about what he thinks people want to hear and not what he wants them to.