What would the perfect debut album be like? Well, it would have to have a couple of slow ones, a couple of heavier ones, two or three catchy ones and the ‘One That Everyone Knows’. There would be variety, but also a distinctive flavour that you can recognise in each song. It would be well balanced and produced, expertly finding a balance between punctilious cleanness and the occasional blast of grunge. Finally, it wouldn’t hurt if the lyrics were thought through to a pitch of near-poetic intensity (and no, that doesn’t just mean throwing in the odd quote from Macbeth: I’m looking at you, Marcus Mumford).
Under these criteria, there is a pretty good case for saying that Hozier’s first full-length release (also called Hozier) is a perfect debut album. Hozier, née Andrew Hozier-Byrne in County Wicklow, was reared on the blues, Motown and jazz, and also cites Pink Floyd, Tom Waits and Nina Simone among his major influences. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his idiosyncratic sound is difficult to pin down, yet there is certainly some kind of ineffable Hozier-ness to be heard in each of the songs of the album, from the boppy, perky ‘Jackie and Wilson’ to the melancholy dignity of ‘Foreigner’s God’. However you describe Hozier’s sound, it seems to display a maturity far beyond its writer’s 23 years; this is a fully developed style, and in many ways Hozier feels more like a fifth or sixth album than a debut. Perhaps that is why he has been compared to every established act from Van Morrison to Vampire Weekend; time will tell if such comparisons are justified, but all the signs are good.
The keystone of the album—’Take Me To Church’—is a wittily subversive Ohrworm of a song, catchily combining theology with romance in a way that might make you think of John Donne: “Take me to church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies; / I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.” ‘Arsonist’s Lullaby’ burns with a steady narrative intensity before fizzing to a menacing end; ‘From Eden’ is a love-song so natural you feel like you knew it already, with a dark lyrical twist. The best song on the album, though, is the crooning ‘Every Day’, in which Hozier’s mesmerising voice, knack for texture and poetic lyricism find a perfect combination. ‘Perfect’ or otherwise, Hozier is an unbelievably accomplished debut album. This Irish lilt is one we will be hearing again, and I for one can’t wait. Do I need to spell out a star rating?