Hozier – Wasteland, Baby (Columbia)

Following his unlikely rise to prominence in 2013 with Take Me to Church, Wicklow wizard Hozier’s stock has grown and commercial pressures have increased. But, the Irish bluesman stayed true to his roots, he took his time, and he refused to give in to fan demands, label pressures and the urge of a quick fix record.

Instead, he waited five years, examined his soul, revisited his record collection and came back with a protest album, filled with honesty and typical authenticity. Opening with Nina Cried Power, which features American R&B / gospel singer Mavis Staples, Hozier speaks of civil rights protests, referring the struggles of James Brown and Nina Simone, in punchy, pop-infused, blues opener.

This succinct opening is followed by Almost (Sweet Music) and Movement, both of which mix moody blues with effortlessly pitchy vocals, to create beautifully empowering numbers that could slide into his self-titled debut album. While these tracks are unlikely to gain the same commercial attention as big hitters like No Plan, they are two that will certainly capture the attention of Hozier’s core fans, with their honesty and power highlighting the brilliance of the Irishman.

Hozier’s devilish blues / traditional set up, awed vocals and unashamed literary knowledge have enamored him to the blues / rock communities, and gained him acceptance in spaces that can be tough to break through, while his gospel inspired, pop infused approach has led to widespread success. Within Wasteland, Baby, there are times when Hozier tries to appeal to both sets of fans, and at times it reduces the impact of the album, particularly with the awkwardly positioned Nobody and To Noise Making (Sing), which take on a much more indie vibe that the rest of the album.

However, these tracks quickly pass, and Hozier slides back into the warmth of the blues, with slower, more traditional tracks like As It Was and Talk, a pair of inspired numbers that could silence a stadium. These songs see the talented troubadour start to build toward something special, and it could be argued that two of the best songs on the album come as it’s drawing to a close – Be and That Would I.

Both tracks encapsulate the essence of Hozier as an artist, with his slow build up, haunting vocals, powerful gospel backing singers, and stadium worthy choruses. In short, these tracks are the kind of big hitters that he built his reputation on.

Wasteland, Baby has been a long time coming, and in truth, Hozier has not disappointed. This is a worthy follow up to his incredibly successful debut, and one with such subtly, variety and authenticity that it could simultaneously inhabit blues bars and indie clubs – a rare feat indeed.