Tracks: 13 (+4 Bonus Tracks)
Release Date: 19th September 2014
Label: Rubyworks, Island Records
Since in many ways I am my mother’s son, I always have had a private and secretive love for Northern Soul, and Motown, and in the dead of night, I have always found myself turning to the Otis Reddings, the Sam Cookes, and the Drifters. There’s just something about that sort of voice that turns me into a small pile of ash, still smoking from the fire that blazed through me minutes before.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I tend to avoid music in the limelight, as often the hype leaves me disappointed, and leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, I found myself on YouTube one morning, and whilst I was waiting for my video to load and an advert came on, playing Hozier’s Take Me To Church. I fell in love with the song immediately, the simple and minor piano in partnership with the hums from the backing vocals offer a very hymnal impression, as you can imagine could only be intentional considering the song’s title.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, the 24-year-old from County Wicklow seems not afraid to be heard, the vocals are a tuneful bellow, evidently holding nothing back in his presentation of poetic lyricism. The strength and confidence in this song made sure it had my full attention from the first bar until the last and is the most assuring opener for any album you could hope for.
However, as good as Take Me to Church was, I cynically discarded any hope for the rest of the album. So many times have we come across one-hit wonders, where we adore the lead single, and once we have invested in their album, there’s never anything as good as the first time. But, I am only human and I find myself the victim of curiosity on more than a few occasions. This was one of those occasions where curiosity rewarded the cat for its bravery with medals made from staves and clefs.
Approaching with much pre-heated disappointment, I moved on to track two; Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene. What I found was not only an angel, but the sound of a choir of sweet angels. It began with the through-a-tin-can blues, distant wails of swing clubs in some fantasised American back-alley beat bar. The drum shuffle made its way into the foreground, leading to a chorus with a kitchen dance choreography that writes itself, foot taps become moody stomps and a feeling of wishing you knew all the words already. The vocals are almost borrowed from the chain-gang, aggressive power chords underline the ode to the femme fatale. This provides an experience far-removed from the warblings of your One Directions, or the bass obsessed club anthems you would normally find in the Top 40, this song offers refreshing relief, and therefore stands as one of my favourite songs on the self-titled album.
Impressively, Hozier is the artist’s début album released through the enormous Island Records along with Rubyworks and reached a number one place in his home country of Ireland. These are credentials that have to be admired. Tracks such as To Be Alone, really assist in the understanding of why this album is as successful as it is, having only been released just over a month ago.
Similarly to the Black Keys, the opening lick is seductive and reminiscent of the Delta-era of blues, it’s simple, focusing on the man’s voice and the lace-like guitar section behind him, refusing to over-complicate matters, showing it needs no frills to make it work. Hopefully the sort of song you hang above your door as the number ones roll through the street. The chorus is dark and really gives power to the song’s title, with ghostly resonations and serious stomps on the stompbox, bells rattling like shackles, Hozier states: “You don’t know what Hell you put me thorough to have someone kiss the skin that grows from you, to feel your face in arms I’ve never used.” Following this, he utilises the famous blues shuffle, where he could have sung a classic “I woke up this morning…” line and there would have been no surprises.
Despite being one of the darker tracks on an otherwise upbeat album, I don’t find myself being brought down by it to a lower state of mood, instead, I find myself appreciative of the simplicity in the song. Where many songs on the album are dressed-up, featuring many musical aspects and layers, this song is basic in construction, and is some relief towards the halfway point of the record.
Unfortunately, there are many songs that feel like filler songs. There are the colossal songs such as Take Me to Church and Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene, and Foreigner’s God but songs such as Someone New, or Like Real People Do and Cherry Wine that are lacking in substance. Perhaps the juxtaposition with the stronger songs on the album makes them more forgettable, but for me, as they are lacking the same power and quality, I find myself far to easily lead to skipping the track, moving through the fillers to the next gem.
In a Week is near enough the exact middle of the album and is the only song on Hozier credited with a featured artist, that being Karen Cowley, a fellow Irish singer. It’s a step away from the blues oriented style of the opening section of the album, and instead focuses on a more country-folk direction, relying heavily on picked acoustic guitars, and guiding a gentle lead from an electric guitar. Cowley’s voice is perfectly suited to harmony with Hozier, she is able to reach the high notes, and sink to the lower notes, something I have always loved in a woman’s voice, and this has the presence to open the track up more, rather than it simply featuring Hozier.
There are many great tracks throughout the album; Sedate which holds some of the catchiest vocal melodies Hozier can offer delivered on a silver platter made from jungle rhythms and gospel choirs, Work Song which has some of the grittiest lyrics and hymnal-hum deliveries supported by slow clap enthusiasm and confessions, and It Will Come Back which acts as an instructional handbook on what not to feed. Something which makes far more sense when you’ve heard the track.
I couldn’t recommend purchasing this album any more whole-heartedly if I had written the songs myself. Each song has something to offer the listener in its own right, whether it’s a stompy blues track, or a delicate country-folk ode, or a dark and bleak Delta confessional. Unfortunately there are tracks on the album I consider as being filler tunes, but the quality of those that are not make the endurance of those tracks fully worth the wait.
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