Recording a hit single can be a blessing and a curse for any artist. In one regard, your art is finally heard, and an audience is acquired. On the flip side, following up that Billboard-topping song can be a daunting task. Irish singer/songwriter Hozier knows a thing or two about living up to high expectations.
“Take Me to Church” was a 6x platinum hit, and officially solidified Hozier as a global phenom. Six years later, he’s back with with his sophomore record Wasteland, Baby!, hoping to gain back the spotlight.
Instead of playing to the masses, Hozier creates his most versatile project to date. He’s not shy when it comes to honoring the artists who’ve impacted him the most, specifically Mavis Staples (who shows up on the intro track, “Nina Cried Power”), Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye. The album starts off strong on “Nina Cried Power,” where Hozier celebrates some of the greatest R&B/Gospel songs about power, and standing up for what one believes in.
The first third features the most passionate songwriting of the record-even if some stylistic choices don’t always reach their full potential. Hozier’s vocal delivery on “No Plan” fails to correlate tonally with the invigorating laser-like bass-line. It’s one of the few times Hozier’s magnificent voice isn’t the forefront of the track.
Hozier continues his streak of integrating multiple genres within his aesthetic, specifically alternative folk, indie rock and R&B. “Would That I” successfully represents the folky side of Hozier: something that’s rarely seen throughout his repertoire. The track carries some glossy guitar riffs with a gorgeous hook-“It’s not tonight/Where I’m set alight/And I blink in sight/Of your blinding light.” Even the subtle Gospel additions are breathtaking; despite the fact they’ve been used consistently in Hozier’s music.
Wasteland, Baby! loses some steam when the Irish songwriter is searching for that next hit song. “To Noise Making (Sing)” and “Be” are two instances where Hozier loses me lyrically, specifically because of their lazy choruses, and recycled themes (mainly on the production side). The Gospel touch can be a nice way to add “meat on the bones,” but only when deemed necessary. If the style isn’t warranted, then it shouldn’t be used.
The instrumentation on the final few songs surprisingly shifts into stale mode, specifically on “Sunlight,” where Hozier’s vocal inflections and underwhelming handclaps become reminiscent of a bad Imagine Dragons cut (like something off of Origins). Even Hozier’s wavy edits on the title track are goofier than intended.
The subdued parts of the record quickly develop into the most interesting ones. Hoosier is at his best when he’s not thinking out of the box, like on the acoustic-driven “Shrike”-which acts as an ode to his Irish heritage. The incredibly raw performance is a major highlight within a very ambitious experience.
Aside from a few peculiar aesthetic choices, Hozier comes through with a strong sophomore effort on Wasteland, Baby!; one that features a beautiful folk-infused sound reminiscent of the Nick Drake days. Thankfully, Hozier was able to follow up his big hit with something worthwhile.