“I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice,” once sang a musical poet who happens to be releasing a new album around the same time the debut eponymous album from Hozier arrives into the world. Indeed, when you hear the the Wicklow man sing, this album does seem as if it was inevitable. A voice like that not being utilised for such a purpose would be like George W. Bush using his father’s political dynasty just to get off speeding fines, or Isaac Newton wasting his insanity murdering people.
But the voice is just one aspect of Hozier’s musical personality. There is also the consistent undertone of soul and blues, which sometimes hums beneath the surface of the electric guitars and the rock ‘n’ roll drums, other times stabbing out in an “oh to be alone with you” or an “I fall in love just a little, oh a little bit/everyday with someone new”. From what we know about Hozier this is a parental influence, as much of a “from birth” thing as the voice, which merely adds to the inevitability of the album. Yes, it seems that ‘Hozier’ was meant to be.
What was not prophesied however was the quality and the inventiveness, for that Hozier can claim full responsibility. The opening track, in all its ubiquitousness, is a perfect example of how he manages to successfully mix the rootsy with the pop, the simple with the intelligent. Take Me To Church harnesses the forcefulness of gospel music and turns it into a piece of arena rock without conceding too much to either of those rather disparate influences. On Jackie and Wilson the blending of hard rock and soul is equally as effortless.
It’s this tendency to transform his influences into something distinctly his own that makes ‘Hozier’ a formidable album. If blues music’s original purpose was to entertain around a campfire or on a porch in some desolate part of the American South in the early 20th century, then what good is simply playing those same old songs in a Western middle class environment in 2014? Hozier keeps the soulful roots at the heart of his music but makes it danceable and modern, so The Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene opens up with a hum that places you in a Baptist church, but develops into a rhythm that has you swilling whiskey shots in a Memphis concert hall.
Featuring more than a hint of Lisa Hannigan’s An Ocean and a Rock the opening pop rock of From Eden develops into another full on stadium filler, but it’s followed up by one of the highlights of the album. In a Week is a sombre duet with Wyvern Lingo’s Karen Cowley, taking the idea of the love song to a place both strange and moving. The “in a week” of the title refers to the length of time the song’s lovers expect to be dead together in the countryside before they’re found. The imagery of wildlife feasting on their bodies is a rare and touching representation of what a violent feeling love can be, and the sensitive tone of the melody and the performances from Hozier and Cowley (who is getting closer to being Ireland’s finest vocalist with every song she sings) belie the dark subject matter.
For all the appeal of those upbeat rockers, these quieter songs are the most consistently appealing on ‘Hozier’. A few of the louder tracks fall beneath the quality of the overall record, such as Sedated and It Will Come Back, but In a Week, Like Real People Do and Cherry Wine reveal the emotion where the bigger tracks show the intelligence and the social politics.
The biggest criticism that could be levelled against this album is that it very much feels like a collection of songs rather than something that was composed over a set period of time, with subtly shifting tones or an overall thematic purpose. But Hozier has had a hectic year, and this is forgiveable when the majority of the songs are of the quality found here. If the man forges out a nice little break for himself to write over the next few months then album number two could quite easily cement his place in music history.