Review Summary: A strong debut that marries soul, blues and R&B to create something that is both delightfully fresh and comfortably familiar.
Whenever fresh new talent first hits the scene and begins to make waves, it is all too easy for one of two things to happen:
a) hyperbolic acclaim is heaped upon them, usually after a hit single gains significant airtime, so much so that after about a year, they face immense scrutiny based on the hype of their initial success and are almost certain to fail to live up to it or
b) the first hit single proves to be nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan and mass popularity quickly fades in favour of the next up-and-comer.
Now, it is no major secret that the popular music industry seems to rely upon an almost continuous turnover of new acts to ensure the public keeps coughing up the dough rather than become bored of a single artist/ band. Several faces initially lauded as the 'next big thing' have faded into obscurity not too long after the release of their debut album and I'm not just talking about the winners of certain glorified karaoke shows that shoves the year's best sob story to attain the Christmas #1 before starting all over again come August.
However, it is safe to say that Andrew Hozier-Byrne does not belong in that particular category. Starting with his debut EP in late 2013, the Bray, Co. Wicklow native has since steadily built himself into a national sensation, thanks in no small part to the phenomenal anti-discrimination anthem 'Take Me to Church'
. From playing to half a marquee at the back of the Oxegen festival to performing in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show alongside the likes of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, not to mention supporting the Foo Fighters at the renowned Slane Castle concert later this year, it is safe to say that Hozier is making serious waves indeed. But what of the music that has gotten him this far?
Released worldwide in October 2014, Hozier
expands upon the early critical acclaim and commercial success of his EPs and presents us with a veritable smorgasbord of legendary influences that serves more often than not as a heartfelt tribute rather than a collection of pale imitations. Opening with the aforementioned, Grammy- nominated megahit, Hozier's talents for singing and songwriting are showcased with soulful crooning in condemnation of discriminatory organised religion above a bluesy accompaniment of guitar, drums and distorted cello. Huge and important as the song is, there is plenty of meat to follow it up and Hozier indeed proves to be far more than a one-trick pony. His pallet of Muddy Waters, Blind Willie Johnson, Jackie Wilson and Motown sees the elements of simplistic but rough guitar riffs, gospel-like choral backing and bouncing rhythms crafted into venerable masterpieces like the uplifting Someone New
with its sunny R&B stylings, contrasted with the mature gravitas of the lackadaisical It Will Come Back
. Hozier also delves into an intriguing exploration of grim yet passionate romance, a theme that runs through the delightful yet macabre In a Week
and further expanded upon in the buckling Like Real People Do
However, particularly in the second half of the record, a few tracks struggle to reach the bar set by the more meatier cuts; second single From Eden
is a looser dalliance that doesn't quite show off the better qualities of the album and the spiritually gothic Work Song
tends to meander uncertainly rather than drive with self-assurance. Furthermore, the bonus tracks in the deluxe edition do little to add to the record that has not already been established. Far from perfect, but by all other means a strong debut, Hozier
could very well be the first great leap in a long and fruitful career for the 24-year old. Time will tell whether Hozier can make good on his early acclaim and intuitive marriage of blues, soul and R&B akin to the masterful early works of fellow Irishman Van Morrison and escape the potential trappings of premature worship.