Hype and expectation can be a great burden on even the most broadened of shoulders. Fortified with years of success and failure, from resounding praise to withering criticism, even the blue-chip giants of modern music will attest to the residue left by such a burden, namely a lack of clarity and confidence. No such thing for the undoubted artist-du-jour, Hozier.
His eponymous debut arrived last week after a long, slow and deliberate incubation and not for the first time has the industry chatter been on the money. The great majority of us already know the album’s opening gambit by heart, the stirring ‘Take Me To Church’ which stormed the public consciousness like a raging bull last year. There isn’t much point in pointing out its merits or nuances this late in the day but, suffice to say, it’s a fine way to open an album by anybody’s standards. And to be fair, only on the rarest of occasions throughout it’s (admittedly lengthy) running time does the album dip below this level.
For the most part the album has a fairly sober tone to it, it sounds serious and reflective but without leaning too much on intensity. As it happens, however, and despite the subject matter and lyrical defiance it is intensity that it possibly lacks at times. This doesn’t necessarily detract from the album in any great way, but soul music, blues and the pop-tinged iterations of both require a certain level of intensity to generate the requisite level of pathos to make the music stick, this is the music of the emotive heart, remember. Hozier, for the most part, takes an easier approach to this and the result is that the album moves by with effortless aplomb.
Arguably the album is hinged in three places; the opener ‘Take Me To Church’, ‘Sedated’ which sits on the album’s ‘second half’ and it’s live closing track, ‘Cherry Wine’. The latter has all the charm and instant nourishment of Dave Van Ronk’s ‘Green, Green Rocky Road’ and feels like an aural warm blanket. Folksy and rich in tone, and the fact that it’s a live recording with twittering birds and all, the track adds a lovely finishing touch. But several tracks before that there is ‘Sedated’. Arguably the most perfectly realised song released this year. The piano, the voice, the lyrics and the talent are all here to be experienced in a way that transcends anything else on the album and doesn’t need to be highlighted further, it truly speaks for itself.
‘Jackie and Wilson’ is a playful , rockier track than the others and ‘From Eden’, ‘Someone New’ and ‘Work Song’ deserve mention also. A strong debut and a great platform on which to base much of the hype that has preceded it but with this album Hozier has already proved that he can carry the weight of expectation that follows an immediate burst of hype.
You can download the album from iTunes here.