This album has been long awaited by so many. Hozier’s debut was one of those albums which wasn’t just lacking in bad songs, but abundant in very very good ones. So, when Wasteland, Baby! came out (questionable title first of all) we were all hanging on the edge of our seats, willing it to be a good one.
And it kind of is. On first listen, mind. The initial three songs meld into each other in such a predictable manner I was half tempted to skip the rest until my Spotify switched back to Hozier. But I persevered, and I’m glad I did. Although the album opens with first single ‘Nina Cried Power’, which, as a power anthem singing about famous jazz singers coming from a lanky pale Irishman is an interesting listen to say the least.
However it should not have been placed so close to two songs which sound very similar. ‘Movement’ and ‘No Plan’ are all angry echoey room fillers about how crap the world is and set up the album to seem pretty monotonous, which just isn’t the case. Were these songs spread out across the record a bit more, more people would realise that. But these are all of the same ilk.
‘Nobody’ is a slightly more up beat, funky number with some truly astronomical notes hit by the man himself. Very impressive stuff. This is followed by the appropriately named ‘To Noise Making (Sing)’, which has an almost annoyingly catchy chorus featuring some gorgeous help from a female gospel choir. With some interesting percussive backing, it could easily have featured on Ed Sheeran’s Divide, but we’ll forgive Hozier for that. This one will be received live well.
After this relentless pop / rock stream, we’re given the beautiful vintage Hozier in the form of ‘As It Was’. The gorgeously delicate acoustic guitar strumming with the carefully arranged strings echoing in the background, we are reminded of the quieter moments from his debut which we know and love (and probably went on to make him plenty of dollar, they feature on so many TV shows). ‘Shrike’ keeps to the traditional irish-folk-music style guitar playing and crescnedos perfectly into a haunting melodic interlude.
Sadly, the only other truly gentle and quiet moment on the album after this is the title track, ‘Wasteland, Baby!’. Although the strange vibrating effect on his voice is slightly jarring, it’s not unpleasant to listen to and the lyrics are really very sweet.
Inbetween these moments are five songs which are all good, but once again, all very very similar. Although the likes of ‘Talk’ introduce us to a new, darker, rougher guitar sound, the song doesn’t really go anywhere and the organ in the background is almost vampiric. It’s clear Hozier wanted to try out lots of different sounds on this album, which is ambitious and should be respected, but only when they work. And on ‘Be’, it doesn’t. With a voice as excellent as his, and with guitar-playing skills as accomplished as his, there is no need to rely on effects and distortion to sound interesting. The same can be said for ‘Dinner & Diatribes’ although to a lesser degree. The gradual development of this track is very impressive; it’s the kind of song you’d want to stick on in an angry rant after an argument when all the world seems hopeless. Love those kinds of songs.
‘Would That I’ scrapes the album back from its angry tantrum in the middle, with some heavier rhythm whilst simultaneously retaining the sweet melodies and achieving the same catchiness whith ‘To Noise Making (Sing) enjoys; a good effort here. ‘Sunlight’ opens with very Imagine Dragons-esque clapping and foot-stomping, and we get that organ back again, with very churchy choral arrangements behind. But it works beautifully in this song and were it performed in a cathedral, it would really use its acoustics to the full with the various textures going on. But I imagine a cathedral tour is quite difficult to arrange.
Overall, this album is a good one. It would be a great one were it not for the fact that Hozier was such a hit and this one just doesn’t quite reach the same levels of ingenuity. Nonetheless, I would encourage everyone who enjoyed the first album to give it a listen, because there are some fantastic moments on it, just lower your expectations.