The singles for this album hinted at a formidable follow-up album for the Irish talent, but as a full entity, how is Wasteland, Baby!? In a word: Outstanding.
It’s been five years since his eponymous debut album and Hozier has evidently used that time to mature musically. Bold, multi-layered and ambitious, Wasteland, Baby! manages to draw from four or five genres to create one intensely unique and endearing album.
Until quite recently, I worked in a clothes shop whose playlist included three tracks from Hozier’s first album (From Eden, Jackie and Wilson and Someone New) and that, unfortunately, ruined them for me. I listened to each track so many times that everything I didn’t like about them was magnified a thousand times. However, if I was forced to listen to the follow-up that much, it’d be just as good the last time as the first.
Stylistically, there’s a bit of everything in here, from RnB-based jams like the upbeat Almost and the nebulous Movement, to soul-tinged tracks like Nina Cried Power, To Making Noise (Sing), Be and Would That I. There’s also folk influence, as well as blues and a hearty portion of rock. What Hozier has really developed since his eponymous debut is the effectiveness of the soul influence embedded in his music. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe Nina Cried Power and thankfully the feeling this track has is carried through the album, helped by the regular inclusion of a gospel-style choir.
Hozier also hits the mark with the lower-dynamic folk-tinted tracks too, with the soft and tender Shrike contrasting with the much darker As It Was, which broodingly lurches between verse and chorus. The heavier tracks don’t sacrifice intricacy or intensity for dynamic, as demonstrated by No Plan‘s dovetailing guitars; one razor-sharp and Black Keys-esque, the other clean and soft; and Movement, with it’s explosive change of tone at its climax. The whole album deftly blends the moody, dark and sometimes sinister atmosphere of tracks like Dinner & Diatribes with the upbeat and ethereal like in title track and album closer, Wasteland, Baby!
Hozier’s talents as a musician continue to impress, with his unmistakable vocals particularly notable on this album. He’s clearly worked on making his voice smoother, as evident in No Plan and, unlike many singers, he knows to reserve the peak of his vocals for when the song suits it the most. His lyrics have matured as well as his songwriting as a whole.
It’s also pretty apparent he’s adept as a co-producer too. While the music, lyrics and structuring provide what makes this album good on the surface, it’s made special by the way that it’s produced, resulting in Wasteland, Baby! sounding both intimate and cavernous.
This album sounds so dynamically varied – thanks in no small part to the production. Wasteland, Baby! nails the subtle and knows exactly where to apply volume and intensity. It also chooses which instruments should go where expertly, always careful not to overload the soundscape with too much at once. Alongside Hozier’s characteristic guitar tones are some new and intriguing sounds, such as the fuzz-style guitars used in the likes of Be and No Plan. The album uses an organ to add intensity in swathes, most noticeable in Talk.
Other aspects such as the layering of tracks contributes to a sound which is balanced and beautifully textured. Hozier and co-producers Markus Dravs and Rob Kirwan apply space and silence to create power in songs like To Noise Making (Sing) which also curbs some sharpness from the lead vocals to allow the dominant backing vocals to occupy the higher reaches of the track. A nice touch.
Finally, the most effective element of the production of this album is the way the choir section sounds – particularly in Nina Cried Power, Dinner & Diatribes, Be and To Making Noise (Sing) – thunderous.
The production of this album has had so much thought go into it. It could have been so much simpler, but that wouldn’t have made half as good an album as this. Wasteland Baby! is a demonstration that sometimes waiting five years for an album is worth it, in the end.