A lot can change in the music industry in five years. An artist’s outlook and creative process can be completely different — as can their degree of mainstream success. La Roux’s album “Trouble in Paradise” (2014) came five years after “La Roux” (2009), with “Trouble in Paradise” (2014) barely capturing the essence of the success of their debut or the single “Bulletproof.” Lorde’s masterpiece “Melodrama” (2017) followed “Pure Heroine” (2013), and while “Melodrama” just might be a better album overall, it didn’t produce a big hit like “Royals.”
Irish musician Hozier might just join La Roux and Lorde in their five-year club with his second album “Wasteland, Baby!” (2019) coming five years after his self-titled debut. While “Wasteland, Baby!” is a better, more cohesive album, it’s unlikely to produce a song on the level of “Take Me to Church” (2013).
Hozier has always been an interesting figure in music. His debut was one of the best of 2014, and even now, “Take Me to Church” is an earworm for anyone who dared to turn on the radio that year. This time around, Hozier seems to have gone for sounds that flow from song to song, rather than have any one song stand out against the rest.
“Wasteland, Baby!” opens with the rambunctious, in-your-face “Nina Cried Power (feat. Mavis Staples).” The song was the lead single off Hozier’s fourth EP “Nina Cried Power” (2018), which served as an appetizer to the main course of “Wasteland, Baby!” There’s a lot to be said for Hozier’s dedication to telling various stories in his songs. If any song is the epitome of storytelling, it might just be this lead single, which both sets the stage for “Wasteland, Baby!” and reminds listeners that Hozier is just as good as he was five years ago.
In many ways, “Wasteland, Baby!” shifts Hozier from his place of music comfort to a land that he’s newly exploring. And while no song Hozier releases will ever top “Cherry Wine (Live)” (2016) — which was recorded on the roof of an abandoned hotel at 5 a.m., according to Twitter — Hozier tries his best to stretch himself.
The album is a garden for Hozier, allowing him to nurture new and exciting sounds that make “Wasteland, Baby!” an enjoyable listen. There are pure moments of fun, like Hozier’s yelps and guitar on “Nobody,” the somewhat tropical sound of “No Plan,” the mischievous guitar riff of “Talk Refined” and the harsher electricity of “Be.” Hozier includes plenty of emotional ballads, his bread-and-butter. “Shrike” is a lighter, mistier breath and “Sunlight” is a reminder of the power his vocals can have, something listeners learned on “Take Me to Church.”
If one song on “Wasteland, Baby!” showcases Hozier’s musical growth while also serving as a reminder of his strengths, it’s “Dinner & Diatribes.” It’s a harder, blues rock song, and a great listen. It allows Hozier to go wild for a moment, something the album shows more of as it progresses. “Dinner & Diatribes” is the climax of this craziness, and if Hozier could release an album full of songs just like this, it would be the perfect listen. The album’s final song, the title track, is a nice closer that puts Hozier right back in his place, with a soft-sung guitar seemingly rocking listeners to sleep after a fun “Wasteland, Baby!” party.
That might just be what “Wasteland, Baby!” is: a fun romp that has some moments of rest, but not many. When playtime is finally over and it’s time for bed, Hozier knows just how to do it. This isn’t to say the album lacks any sort of lyrical depth — it’s exactly what any listener would expect from the songwriting powerhouse. There is heartbreak, love, excitement and desperation. There’s plenty of chanting and hoping for something new. On the title track, Hozier sounds dreamier and more all-knowing than ever, as he addresses a lover. “Wasteland” is just as deep and complex as it is enjoyable.
Just like La Roux and Lorde’s second efforts, it appears “Wasteland, Baby!” won’t produce a particularly successful international hit. While he’ll certainly dominate Ireland’s music industry in the coming months – “Nina Cried Power” peaked on the US charts at 10 – it’s doubtful that any song on “Wasteland, Baby!” will reach the level of “Take Me to Church.”
Regardless, “Wasteland, Baby!” is an album to be thankful for. It’s everything fans of Hozier could want, and if any alternative rock music fans felt a little hungry in 2019, Hozier is here to feed them. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait five more years for another Hozier release.