Friday 22 March 2019

Wasteland Baby! by Hozier review: 'The album is a dramatic confirmation of a confident talent'

4 stars

Hozier. Photo: Getty
Hozier. Photo: Getty

Eamon Carr

Just like we hear about the pressure that comes with mega lottery wins, it’s worth considering the case of Andrew Hozier-Byrne.

You’re 23 and, having dropped out of college, spent a few years writing songs, finding your voice and devising arrangements that break free from formulaic structures. Then, BOOM! You’re an overnight sensation, and your single, Take Me to Church, is a monster hit and a subject of debate all over the world.

From wrestling with your muse and wondering if you’re on the right track,  you suddenly find yourself feted. Your back is slapped. Your bank manager is happy to see you, and as you work the touring circuit, everyone in the industry wonders what you’ll do next.

Hozier shouldered the responsibility alone.

The maturity of the songs on his debut album suggested he had a musical vision that was intuitive, passionate and personal. To his credit, he hasn’t allowed himself be sidetracked, derailed or driven demented by fame and celebrity. The resolve and courage required to overcome those potential pitfalls shine through this new 14-track collection.

It’s clear that, like a lot of other artists from Led Zeppelin to the Black Keys, Hozier’s musical tastes range through soul music, vintage R’n’B, jazz, gospel and singer-songwriter folk.

Wasteland Baby! by Hozier
Wasteland Baby! by Hozier

However, the way he channels those influences to convey his world view and lyrical concerns is different. This isn’t pastiche.

Hozier adds an uncompromising complexity and sophistication to the mix in a manner that recalls the fearless and fierce sense of adventure and righteousness found in the music of Nina Simone.

It’s apt, then, that the strongest performance on the album is the thunderous gospel invocation Nina Cried Power, which pays homage to great musicians who’ve challenged prejudice.

Other artists who fought the power with their music were the Isley Brothers whose trademark springy guitar sound is recalled on No Plan.

The initial Bert Jansch feel of As It Was is exploded with the authority of a Paul Simon, as Hozier displays his maturing compositional skills.

These songs have a social message that doesn’t ignore the personal, and the resulting album is a dramatic confirmation of a confident talent.

'To see all of that was really deflating' - Hozier reacts to homophobic comments of dancer who performs in 'Movement' video

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