Unbeknown to me, 58,000 people were waiting and ready to pick up copies of the self-titled debut album from Hozier in its first week. The album began at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and No. 1 on their list of Top Rock Albums. Now in its second week it sits at No. 12 on the 200 list up with the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Bob Seger, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga and fellow Irishmen, U2. In short, it’s a pop album and massively popular at that. It is well produced and clean sounding, maybe a little overly produced, a bit too clean. But, there is good news for fans of popular music. Andrew Hozier Byrne comes from rural roots, the son of a blues drummer raised on Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Blind Willie Johnson and the like. In the midst of all of its mass appeal, the cherubic voice, the emotional weight, the catchy choruses, Hozier, draws upon those roots dropping in blues riffs, astute lyrics, even a work song titled as such. Hozier offers a bit of an education for the casual radio listener.
At 24 years old, it’s as if Hozier is tight-roping along the top wire of an old fence, on one side stretches the dank green pastures and exposed roots of the old gnarled trees of his upbringing and on the other a suit and tied marketing rep walks along a well laid sidewalk, silhouetted by the bright lights of stardom, offering up a steadying hand, which for the moment Hozier gladly grasps, though not entirely ready to abandon his roots. The hit single, “Take Me To Church,” is a result of the path cleared out by that hand emerging from a cufflinked wrist. The song appeared on an EP of the same name over a year ago and has made it an easy walk thus far for Hozier. It is a wailing ballad instilling the act of love into an evangelical setting, Hozier singing, “My church offers no absolution, tells me worship in the bedroom,” and on and on, “I’ll tell you my sins, you can sharpen your knife.” The whole album carries this worship room vibe, complete with the too pure vocals.
For me the album lacks the type of personality one would expect from a man drawing so heavily on the blues tradition. It is as though in the interest of massive accessibility he only steps lightly into each segment of his influences, so that the grit and rawness of emotion typical of the blues and hearty folk is smoothed over into youthful sorrow and soap operatic tales of love. A few redeeming qualities amidst all of this is the command of language and the acknowledgement of reality, both of which are rare in the world of pop music.
In the track “To Be Alone” Hozier talks of the cathartic aspects of love in a chaotic world, singing, “All I’ve ever done is hide from our times when you’re near me.” And in the song, “In a Week,” sung with Karen Cowley, the two harmonize to say, “When the buzzards get loved, after the insects have made their claim, after the foxes have known our taste, after the raven has had its say, I’ll be home with you.” Here again is a beautiful account of two lovers escaping to the seclusion of love and nature to escape the looming downfall of humanity. Instrumentally the album is varied in its rhythms and sentiments, ranging from uplifting and gospel-like down to somber and haunting, but through it all the purity of voice, the worship room vibe, is inescapable, working to homogenize the sound.
It appears to me that Hozier has a decision to make as he walks along this fence between the green field and the bright lights. He can either allow the man in the suit to support him as he eases down from the top wire toward packed arenas, more television spots, commercials, grocery store gossip mags and astronomical numbers of dollars wielding that angel’s voice and striking good looks, or he can leap off the other side and go running wildly through the fields and down back roads to still packed smaller venues smelling of booze and cigarettes, keep moving on, grow steadily old, develop a weathered voice and a sure slide on a beaten up guitar, or whatever else he feels like, being free from the dubious clutches of fame.
Hozier is a good debut, but it’s not my cup of tea. Actually, yes it is. It’s my cup of tea when all I want is an oaken glass of whiskey on the rocks.
Overall Rating: 6/10
- “Take Me to Church”
- “Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene”
- “Jackie and Wilson”
- “Someone New”
- “To Be Alone”
- “From Eden”
- “In a Week” (featuring Karen Cowley)
- “Work Song”
- “Like Real People Do”
- “It Will Come Back”
- “Foreigner’s God”
- “Cherry Wine
Bill Shultz is a Barista, Bartender, Poet and Painter living in Springfield, Missouri. He has a BA in Creative Writing from Missouri State University, with publication in the school’s literary magazine, Moon City Review II, as well as a MA in Studio Art and Theory from the Summer Institute for Visual Arts at Drury University. His latest visual work can be found at www.billshultzart.com. While poetry and rants exist at http://billshultz.wordpress.com.