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Hozier - Unreal Unearth (Album Review)

Thursday, 24 August 2023 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Barry McCall

Make no mistake about it, this is going to be huge—one of those records that sticks around. Employing an army of outside writers and producers to help fashion its ruminative collection of eclectic and ambitious sonic paintings, Hozier’s third record, despite its tortured sentiments, is a hugely accessible offering. Yet, by surrendering creative control in order to push his sound forwards, it also represents a disappointing step into homogenous territory at the expense of its creator’s most bewitching traits.

Inspired by reading Dante’s Inferno during the pandemic, while recovering from a shattering heartbreak, Hozier used the poem’s allegorical descent into the nine circles of hells as a framing device for exploring darkness in the context of connection with others, ourselves, as well as a sense of time and place.

Powerhouse indie-grunge colossus Francesca, mystical folk bijou De Selby (Part One) and Who We Are, one of many spine tingling, melody-drenched anthems delivered with typically hypnotic vocals, are emblematic of the record’s variety and Hozier’s considered exploration of life, mortality and all those murky waters in-between.

Not that it’s all doom and gloom. Gloriously sugary and sparkly, the Brandi Carlile duet Damage Gets Done defends youthful abandon with utter joie de vivre, I, Carrion (Icarian) offers tender and feathery empathy and First Light, an orchestral behemoth that soundtracks the songwriter’s ascent out of turmoil, couldn’t be more uplifting if it emitted a jet stream of helium.

For all the outside writers here (some tracks have as many as eight), the Irishman’s poignant poetry thankfully hasn’t been adulterated. That said, too many ideas are presented in such a polished, overproduced and conventionally refined way it sometimes feels like this widescreen aesthetic, regardless of the styles he’s traversing has relegated lyrical substance to a supporting role. 

Aided by producers such as Bekon (Kendrick Lamar) and Sergio Gherman, De Selby (Part Two) and Eat Your Young, which deploys the kind of played out falsetto that’s so prevalent in modern music, hit all the expected marks with pinpoint accuracy. Elsewhere, Abstract (Psychpomp) is too Coldplay for comfort and All Things End, which kicks off this 16 track effort's patchy second half and resembles enough soul classics to fill a ‘Best Of’ collection, culminates with a predictably euphoric gospel choir.

There’s a strong argument to be made that Hozier’s previous raw approach, which sounded like he was recording live in a haunted Baptist church, would have been a better way to present this album’s thematic gravitas. But by working with producers who are extremely skilled at delivering a certain product, its execution is all a bit too knowing and never feels as instinctual as Hozier at his most captivating and affecting. 

An artist’s signature sound will always be either diluted or enhanced as a result of collaborating with other creative minds. Bringing in fresh influences and sounds can certainly provide a welcome addition. Unless, however, those elements file down the songwriter’s idiosyncratic edges by drawing heavily from omnipresent genre touchstones. Yet, somewhat ironically, although ‘Unreal Unearth’ is lacking something because of that tactic, it’s actually gained all the attributes it needs to be a massive smash hit for the very same reason. Go figure.

Hozier Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun December 10 2023 - LIVERPOOL M&S Bank Arena
Mon December 11 2023 - GLASGOW OVO Hydro
Wed December 13 2023 - BIRMINGHAM Resorts World Arena
Fri December 15 2023 - LONDON OVO Arena Wembley
Sun December 17 2023 - BELFAST SSE Arena Belfast
Tue December 19 2023 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Wed December 20 2023 - DUBLIN 3Arena

Compare & Buy Hozier Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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