Album Review: "Wasteland, Baby!"

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As the old Elvis Costello quip goes, “You have 20 years to write your first album and six months to write your second.” This rush to get new music out often results in a second album that lacks the depth and musicianship of the first.

While there was a five year gap between Hozier’s debut album and his sophomore album, “Wasteland, Baby!,” the latter showcases the 28-year-old’s ability to go back to his roots and try out new endeavors.

The highly-anticipated album opens strong with “Nina Cried Power,” a power ballad that incorporates a blend of gospel-esque background vocals and is heavy on the blues. The highlight of the track is Mavis Staples’ vocal solo near the end of the song. Staples’ powerhouse voice makes every song sound and feel like a church service, and “Nina Cried Power” is no exception. She gives the track an undeniable energy that is reflected throughout the album.

Unlike his first album, “Wasteland, Baby!” is mainly uptempo pop songs, most notably “Almost (Sweet Music)” and “To Noise Making (Sing).” Unlike much of modern pop, however, this album has a depth that is almost paradoxical. All at once, “Wasteland, Baby!” is a blend of melancholy and optimism. The lyrics are sexual without being sexist, and spiritual without being preachy.

While “Wasteland, Baby!” sees Hozier embracing more upbeat tempos, and themes, the track “As It Was” will remind listeners of his 2014 debut. With a slower pace and a string arrangement that blends in beautifully with the song, Hozier proves that he can change things up without completely abandoning his past work.

The highlights of this album are the tracks “Be” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” The former is similar to the 2014 hit “Take Me to Church” in the sense that it incorporates religious imagery to tell a story. With bluesy guitar backing up lyrics discussing love when there is nothing else left, along with thinly veiled political ideology, “Be” is a reminder of what pop music could be. It’s neither preachy nor shallow, and it showcases Hozier’s ability as a storyteller.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjJUh8z-QL8

“Dinners & Diatribes,” along with several other songs, was released before the album, giving listeners a taste of what was to come. The track has everything a song needs to be great: grit, sex and mystery, giving the album an intriguing edge. “Dinners & Diatribes” is another example of Hozier’s ability to tell a story, giving listeners just enough information to decide for themselves what the song means.

Through his 2014 debut and “Wasteland, Baby!,” it is clear that Hozier knows how to use the studio as an instrument. “Wasteland” is structured to tell a story through the order of the tracks. Starting with a sense of optimism with “Nina” and ending with a title track that compares falling in love to the end of the world, the album concludes with a crushing sense of nihilism. However, the musicianship on the album makes even the notion that nothing we do matters seem so damn beautiful.

While many musicians feel pressure to jump right into their second album, “Wasteland, Baby!” is proof that good music is the worth the wait.

Hozier will be performing in Indy on June 10 at Old National Center. For more information, visit  https://hozier.com/gig/monday-june-10th-2019-old-national-centre-murat-theatre/.

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