Hozier, within the past few months, has become one of my absolute favorite musicians. As a huge fan of blues, soul, classic rock, and traditional Irish folk, I am positively blown away by this album. It’s the perfect blend of all of those elements, retrofitted for a modern audience of existentially distressed young people (much like myself). And while Hozier’s sound is incredible and I could go on praising each and every little bit of each song, I think his messages are so much more important. He straight up called out the Catholic Church for all its intolerance. He creates stories with arcs and symbolism befitting a gothic novel, and fits them with ease into five-minute musical masterpieces (see “In the Woods Somewhere”). He takes toxic masculinity head-on in serious songs about domestic abuse towards men. This issue, which has been long swept under the rug with phrases like “just hit her back” or, even more blatantly “you’re a man, you’re not being abused, you’re letting this happen”, is now seeing the light of day. In “Cherry Wine”, Hozier sings from the perspective of a man who is being physically abused by a female lover, but who continually looks for ways to justify her actions towards him. Abuse is complicated, no matter who the victim is, and this song captures that perfectly. And then there’s “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene”, in which Hozier tackles with incredible skill and sophistication the issue of emotional abuse—a problem that is very often overlooked, both in the context of male victims and just in general. He so perfectly compares an emotionally abusive partner to an addiction. Abuse of any sort (but especially emotional) can create conflicting feelings in a victim, much like a drug can in an addict. An addict may well know that their addiction is destroying them, but they’re still drawn back to their drug of choice. Similarly, someone in an emotionally abusive relationship may feel miserable, yet may not have the wherewithal to end the relationship. Again, abuse is a very complicated topic that Hozier tackles incredibly well. As someone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship, I can say with certainty that the issue is treated perfectly.
Not to mention Hozier’s commentary on attachment in “It Will Come Back”. The speaker begs not to be treated well. If they are, he sings, they’ll not be able to easily leave the person who is so kind to them. The two verses are very similar, but there is a key difference between the two. Pronouns. The first verse refers to something the speaker calls “it”. This reference carries on to the first chorus, in which Hozier sings, “Don’t let it in with no intention to keep it, Jesus Christ! Don’t be kind to it! Honey, don’t feed it, it will come back.” The second verse refers to the speaker themselves. The pronoun “it” is replaced with words like “I” and “me”. Once again, this carries into the second chorus. “Don’t let ME in,” “Don’t be kind to ME,” etc. It’s an incredible analogy (equating the speaker to a lonely dog, who will be loyal to whoever is first to treat it well, but who has lived its entire life as a stray, learning to be an aggressive fighter). Not only does it establish the problem in a creative way, it also very well outlines just how negative a self-image the speaker has. He goes so far as to quite literally dehumanize himself. To the speaker, they themselves are no better than a desperate animal.
And then there’s “In the Woods Somewhere”, a song that establishes fear and suspense like a Lovecraft novel in the span of only a few minutes. The musical production and instrumentation set the mood quite well. There’s a dark reverb on everything, and Hozier’s composition gives the whole song a woodsy feeling (it sounds strange, I know, but it truly does). The harmonies sound distant, dark, and forlorn. The whole atmosphere is one of unnerving darkness. The lyrics, of course, only add to this. The speaker is drawn by a scream into the woods, wherein he finds a badly wounded fox. Seeing it will not survive, he kills it to stop its suffering. “His bone exposed, his hind was lame. I raised a stone to end his pain.” What a start. And it only gets more unsettling. The speaker wonders fearfully what could’ve caused such large and grievous wounds. It’s at this point that the speaker feels eyes on him. “I saw new eyes were watching me.”
Whatever attacked that fox is still there, and it’s watching. Chilling.
The creature (which, by the way, is never definitively identified, and therefore so much more terrifying) lunges at the speaker, who makes a beeline for his home outside the woods. The final line, “I found something in the woods somewhere,” is so perfectly unsatisfying. The speaker knows what he saw. We do not. He doesn’t speak its name, and our minds are left racing, thinking up harrowing creatures that could tear a fox to shreds. And the fun thing about human psychology is that anything we conjure up is going to be scarier than anything Hozier could’ve written. We think of what scares us, individually. Couple that with our innate fear of the unknown, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for tension.
I’m not going to analyze any more songs, as I fear this is incredibly long-winded, and I want y’all to experience this masterpiece album for yourselves. All I can say is, every song on this album is worth a close and active listen. And if you’re not into song analysis (I’m a musician and an English major, so that’s really all I ever do), Hozier’s sound is still incredible, and these songs are so aesthetically wonderful that it would not be detrimental to simply listen to the sound of the music.