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Illustration by Nisala Saheed

Exploring a Wasteland of Platitudes

On his second full length album, Hozier demonstrates his ability to write fantastic singles while being totally unable to string together a wholesome album.

Mar 16, 2019

Favorite Tracks: Nina Cries Power, Nobody, Shrike Worst Tracks: To Noise Making (Sing), Sunlight, No Plan
Hozier epitomizes an artist who has struggled to break the shackles of his past successes. Having burst onto the scene six years ago with the sleeper hit Take Me to Church, Hozier has failed to take his music to the next level and appears to be reusing the same formula. As such, on his second album, Wasteland, Baby!, he continues to produce his trademark soul infused indie rock with mixed results.
Admittedly, Hozier has never particularly appealed to me, and yet I approached this album with a certain hopefulness following his fantastic Nina Cried Power EP that was released last year. But while his booming voice continues to impress throughout, the songwriting ranges from mediocre to abysmal. Most of the album feels like a cheesy, motivational, pseudo-political speech with the few truly worthwhile tracks getting lost among similar sounding and easily forgettable cliches.
The album opens with Nina Cried Power – a passionate and groovy ode to Hozier’s jazz influences such as Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. The track is certainly in the running for the title of best track he has ever released. The gospel background vocals seamlessly complement his powerful voice, while the track’s multilayered instrumentals are perfectly strung together. Even the feature from Mavis Staples is fantastic as it rounds off a truly well constructed track about hope and belief.
Subsequently, it is a downhill journey as Hozier struggles to establish meaning and falls prey to a variety of songwriting platitudes. His ability to write a fantastic single is really contrasted by his total inability to string together a wholesome album.
For example, while the track Movement is an interesting divergence from his usual blues rock inspired sound, the lyrics are entirely unoriginal and repetitive. He sings about his lover’s unique movement and it having a profound effect on him, which is hardly original. Melodically, however, the song is well produced and upbeat, making the lack of substance even more regrettable.
The song To Noise Making (Sing) again presents Hozier talking about positivity and hope. He is calling the world to sing regardless of how good they are at it with his lyrics, “You don’t have to sing it nice, but honey sing it strong.” Obviously, what he is trying to say is that the most important thing is trying and having a go, with the result being secondary. The motivational platitudes run the risk of sounding almost patronizing. To make matters worse, an almost identical message can be heard on the track Sunlight. For a man whose voice sounds so profound, it is almost sad how unoriginal the clichéd words that come out of his mouth are.
A welcome high comes at the midpoint of the tracklist in the form of the slow, guitar backed, ballad entitled Shrike. While I admire the nature imagery he draws upon in his lyrics I still find his take on love rather unoriginal. In many ways Hozier is also a victim of the genre he occupies. The indie rock scene is diluted with similar sounding love songs and at this point the world cannot help but feel that they have heard it all before.
Despite having focused primarily on the negative aspects of Wasteland, Baby!, the album is far from terrible. The production is clean and crisp, the instrumental arrangements are ambitious and gripping while his vocals continue to thunder. Hozier may not be doing anything revolutionary, but he does continue to make the most of the pop soul sound that put him on the map six years ago and earned him a performing spot in the 2014 Victoria’s Secret show.
In the end, I guess this album is quite aptly named as it is in fact a wasteland and every listener is left searching for that shred of meaning in a swamp of banality.
Steffen Holter is a columnist. Email him at
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