Andrew Hozier-Byrne kept fans itching for more since his debut album, Hozier, was released in 2014. The long-awaited comeback finally arrived this September with his four-track EP, Nina Cried Power.
Nina Cried Power is a short teaser to a new album on the way, and if it’s any indication of what we’re in for, then it guarantees more of Hozier’s sweet, soulful style. The EP emphasizes strength in the roots of American blues and rock and roll, and the impression that protest has left on the music industry nearly 70 years after the American Civil Rights Movement.
With references to Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, James Brown and others in the album’s titular track, Hozier highlights the immortal legacy of the black experience in music and culture, not only in America, but in his home country of Ireland as well.
Looking at some members of his production team also highlights the extent to which his influences bleed into the work. He worked with Mavis Staples, who lent her vocals to the first track with Booker T. Jones, who played the organ on the first 3 tracks, as well as helped with composing and arrangement on the first two tracks. These giants of gospel bring Nina Cried Power to new heights with their soulful contributions.
In an interview with Talia Schlanger of NPR, Hozier discusses in more depth what inspired him in the creation of the EP, saying “it’s definitely informed quite a bit by the political climate of the last 12 months, 18 months… I suppose the end of the world is kind of hanging over the album a little bit. But that is enjoyed in the best way possible. It’s a hard one to describe. There’s even optimism in that, and a lot of the work is very hopeful and very warm, but it still takes place in a very desperate place.”
The second track, “NFWMB,” which Hozier cites as “a love song for the end of the world,” draws on some of the heavier, more melancholic themes and musical motifs we have gotten to know, with a guitar intro akin to that of “It Will Come Back,” off of his debut album. The dark blues sound, with the moving acoustic bassline and repetitive treble guitar, brings us back to the intense and fervent energy that gave Hozier his audience from the beginning. His soothing, radiant falsetto vocals cut in like a knife, combining the Hozier we thought we knew with the Hozier to come in his sophomore album.
He brings us back to his theme on how to look forward in what feels like doomed times in multiple ways, whether it be by finding optimism within the nihilism or harnessing and appreciating the power that came before us. Both “Nina Cried Power” and “NWFMB” revolve around how to make the best of the worst and be positive in the face of negativity.
Equally as exciting is the upbeat third track, “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue).” In this song, Hozier reminds us of his sheer vocal prowess and ability. Moving effortlessly from highs to lows throughout the song, he proves that in just a few short moments, he can make anyone want to dance in the pit at one of his high-energy concerts, or sit at home and really think about his poetic messages of love, sex and religion.
Hozier is known for how his gospel, bluesy jazz draws on powerful biblical and religious allusions. He continues that theme most notably in “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue),” where he challenges conservative and religious views on physical pleasure. With lines like “Me and my babe relax and catch the manic rhapsody / All reason flown, as God looks on in abject apathy,” he explores how conservative powers shame and reject such bodily pleasure.
Hozier topped the charts, reaching No. 2 on Billboard’s hot 100, with his most famous hit “Take Me to Church,” is the best example of how he cleverly incorporates religion into his lyrics. This aspect of his work separates him from the pack, as he can swirl together gospel, rock, soul, folk and blues like no one else.
The fourth track titled, “Shrike,” with its elegant and earthy guitar and drum tracks, captures the essence of Hozier’s multiplicity as an artist and as a cultural presence across the board. He holds onto an Irish-folk style of guitar playing, with an acoustic guitar intro that emulates the likes of a traditional Irish folk song, as well as explores the possibilities of using African and other drum and percussion tracks that can’t normally be heard in Irish and American popular music. It is in this track where we see what Hozier is truly capable of as a lyricist, poet and overall musician.
An arduous task indeed, Hozier takes on the part of the apologetic former love interest, wishing and hoping that he could express his regret for never having appreciated the graciousness of their love. With the line, “As the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn,” Hozier shows us in a brilliant display of affection that he needs his love to survive, much like a shrike needs a thorn, and that they are complementary and symbiotic.
The EP is sonically cohesive both in and of itself as well as in accordance to his previous music. At once, Nina Cried Power is hard-hitting and delicate, political and romantic. It’s classic Hozier diving right into what he does best, while maintaining his style and carrying it into the growth of his sound.