Four years after the massive success of his self-titled debut album, Hozier has returned with his stunning instrumental expertise and poetic lyricism.
In his latest release, Wasteland, Baby!, the Irish singer-songwriter explores the end of the world—an all too familiar subject in today’s political landscape. Immersed in themes of love and despair, each song weaves its own story about the human experience. Hozier takes a relatively gloomy topic and turns it into something to unchain ourselves from and marvel at instead.
Although it isn’t overtly political, Wasteland, Baby! is by no means an apolitical work. The very first track, “Nina Cried Power,” makes this clear with its nod to various musicians who have defined the history of protest music. Referencing iconic civil rights activists like Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Dylan, Hozier makes a point of connecting the musician’s platform to social activism. Echoing “Take Me to Church,” his protest song and first hit single from a few years ago, Hozier takes a moment to appreciate those who came before him and remind artists of their duty to speak out on urgent issues.
Ironically though, a large chunk of this album is devoted to the idea of releasing the desire to control the universe. To Hozier, it seems our obsession with the downward spiral into desolation is more destructive than the end itself. Songs like “To Noise Making (Sing)” and “Sunlight” serve as reminders that it’s perfectly okay to enjoy the world as it is now. There is in fact hope to be found in the wasteland that is coming and love—in all its glory—is the way to cultivate it.
In terms of musical ability, Hozier has truly outdone himself with this album. His seductive voice and air of mystery are especially intoxicating in “No Plan.” The layered instrumentals come together with gospel influences to bring out a sort of majestic nihilism. Listening to his explanation of the inevitability of the end is oddly comforting. Somehow, Hozier blends angsty melodies with soulful verses and produces a song about impending doom that isn’t anxiety inducing.
Wasteland, Baby! has set the bar impossibly high, not only for contemporary protest music, but also for visual art. Produced by Raine Hozier-Byrne (Hozier’s mother), the album art for this collection is purposefully crafted to mirror its paradoxical title and themes. The hazy underwater scene shows Hozier sitting in claustrophobic comfort and surrounded by subtle hints of a chaotic world. In a behind-the-scenes video recently released on YouTube, Hozier-Byrne explains that “art has a job to do,” and this philosophy is reflected in her paintings.
As a whole, Wasteland, Baby! provides a much-needed perspective on the catastrophic state of 21st Century politics. Without being didactic, Hozier tells humanity to calm down and direct their energy towards the fights that really matter.