Wasteland, Baby!

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Kristin Smith

Album Review

Twenty-nine-year-old Irish native Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known to the world simply as Hozier, exploded into the mainstream back in 2013 with his spiritually sensual song “Take Me to Church.” That track spent a record 23 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s rock singles chart, and it propelled Hozier from obscurity as a struggling artist to global recognition.

Now, six years later, Hozier has returned with his chart-topping sophomore effort: Wasteland, Baby! It’s a diverse collaboration, as Hozier weaves rock, acoustic, indie and blues strands into all 14 tracks.

Known by diehard fans as a “forest daddy,” Hozier draws some of his naturalistic influences from famed Irish poet Seamus Heany. Each track features contrasting emotions as Hozier frequently fluctuates between holding onto hope one moment and swooning bleakly into despair the next.

Pro-Social Content

Hozier may have traveled the world, but he says in “Nobody” that only one woman really knows how to love him well (“And I think about you everywhere I go/…But I want you to know that I’ve had no love like your love”). In “Shrike,” he aims to recapture the attention of a lost love (“I couldn’t utter my love when it counted/Ah, but I’m singing like a bird ‘bout it now”). Similar sentiments are heard on “Movement.”

In “Would That I” and “Sunlight,” love is a burning fire that Hozier no longer fears. And in “Almost (Sweet Music),” he cautions his own heart to learn love slowly: “I wouldn’t know where to start/ … Be still, my foolish heart/Don’t turn this on me.” Meanwhile, “As It Was,” “Wasteland, Baby!” and “Be” each concentrate on the constant, faithful love of two people through difficult times.

“To Noise Making (Sing)” focuses on the power of song, and the freedom in it: “You don’t have to sing it nice, but, honey, sing it strong/At best, you find a little remedy, at worst the world will sing along.”

“Nina Cried Power,” featuring American gospel powerhouse Mavis Staples, reminds listeners that there is power in standing for what is right (“It’s not the waking, it’s the rising/It is the ground of a foot uncompromising”).

Objectionable Content

A troubled love takes center stage on “Shrike” and “Talk.” The former focuses on a man harmfully hypnotized by a woman (“Dragging along/Following your form/Hung like the pelt of some prey you had worn”), while the latter exudes narcissistic love (“I’d be the sweet feeling of release/Mankind now dreams of/Imagine being loved by me”).

There is no other agenda but to spend the day huddled away with a lover in “No Plan.” On “Dinner & Diatribes,” a man thinks all day about what might happen behind closed doors (“I’d suffer hell if you’d tell me/What you’d do to me tonight”). Similarly suggestive lines can also be heard on “Nobody,” “Would That I,” “As It Was” and “Movement.”

A sense of hopelessness pervades a few tracks, specifically “Be,” where Hozier references reincarnation and shares his bleak outlook on God and the afterlife: (“When St. Peter loses cool and bars the Gates/ … Oh when there’s nobody upstairs to receive us”).

“To Noise Making (Sing)” and “No Plan” both include an f-word. A reference to alcohol pops up on “Nobody.” And in “Almost (Sweet Music”), Hozier sings about smoking.

Summary Advisory

In a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Wasteland, Baby! on YouTube, Hozier said of his latest effort, “The album flits between unbridled optimism and hopefulness, and then complete despair and nihilism.”

Hozier’s own words capture the essence of this album. It’s haunting and beautiful. It’s stunning and solemn—like a mix between the longing desire of Mumford and Sons and the subdued call of Bon Iver. The Irish singer’s voice captivates, sinking subtly into the cracks created by life’s brokenness.

But not everything that reaches the depths is praiseworthy. Many of Hozier’s songs carry a sensual, hopeless message that praises living heedlessly in the moment, while others offer a bleak outlook on God and spirituality. The end result is a muddled message on an album that paradoxically suggests that everything—and nothing—is truly sacred.

Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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