Review: Hozier's Wasteland, Baby!

Pure poetry if nothing else, the songwriting on Hozier’s sophomore album, Wasteland, Baby! Is raw and honest. Each song is a different picture painted with passionate lyrics exploring dualities in life: love and death, joy and sadness; as well as other heavy, yet exciting themes like mystery and despair. Unique rhythms, decorative guitar, and grounding percussion transform each set of lyrics into a song of great emotion. 
Hozier accompanies his powerful and moving lyrics with combined aspects of folk, Celtic, jazz and blues music. Ornate guitar riffs are sewn together with a soft version of Hozier’s voice in his more tamed and delicate songs like the beginning of “Would That I,” and “Shrike,” which stand out particularly. “Would That I,” begins with one of these ornate, almost naive sounding guitar riffs. As Hozier looks back on past loves he feels heartbreak and pain. The chorus breaks open, a new melody takes its place, and Hozier is now bellowing joyously about his new love; revealing this dichotomy of heartbreak and love not only through the lyrics, but also through the tone of his voice and nature of the music.
Differently, but equally as moving, “Shrike,” maintains its calm, innocent tone throughout the song. Clearly taking Celtic and folk influences, “Shrike,” adds something extremely special to the album. An elaborate metaphor is woven into the more traditional sounding music about a Shrike (a type of bird), and the regret of not confessing love to somebody when there was the opportunity. The song opens with, “I couldn’t utter my love when it counted / Ah, but I’m singing like a bird ‘bout it now,” laying the theme of regret and the power of love over the rest of the song and creating a great juxtaposition in sound to ballads like “Nina Cried Power.”
The songs “Sunlight,” and “No Plan,” contrast each other and bring attention to light vs. darkness. In “Sunlight,” his lover brings repeated light into his life, but the last line of “No Plan,” sends a powerful message: “there will be darkness again.” It seems as if “No Plan,” refers to the inevitable end of the feeling of ecstasy in “Sunlight,” as Hozier sings: “sit here and watch the sunlight fade.” 
The opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” delivers what it promises: Power. Almost shouting at some points, Hozier’s voice carries confidence and stability that contributes to the pure passion that pours out. “Nina Cried Power,” name drops numerous musical icons including Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Mavis Staples (who is featured on the track), B.B. King and Woody Guthrie. Not only were all these musicians extremely formative to their genres of music, but they were all activists for the Civil Rights Movement, which much of their music was influenced by. Every other artist mentioned on this track is or was an activist. “Nina Cried Power,” is a protest song. It is meant to mobilise society to act on what is right. Aside from its clearly political inclinations, it is also fascinating to see musicians who have influenced Hozier’s music so plainly laid out. From Nina Simone to John Lennon, influence from the artists mentioned in “Nina Cried Power,” can all be heard at some point or another in “Wasteland, Baby!”
The album wraps up with the title track, “Wasteland, Baby!” a song about the end of the world. He again links love and death, and ends the album with this duality that has been so prevalent throughout the album. Although released last year, the album “Wasteland, Baby!” continues to stir emotion, and “Nina Cried Power,” certainly holds a special relevance in 2020, as we live through a new movement for civil rights, that, as Hozier may put it, requires not “the waking, but the rising.”