In September 2018, Hozier, the stellar wordsmith returned with a much-needed confession of frustration, and despair for hope in his EP, Nina Cried Power. The EP’s cover conveyed desperation, anguish, frustration, and hopelessness all within an environment which should be calming and comforting. The blues, greens, white highlights, and overall teal hint of the cover evoke a sense of tranquility. However, the color scheme serves as an antithesis to the project’s overall tone.
The deliberate decisions that went into designing the cover – from the juxtaposition of a serene color scheme and the distressed object of focus, the passionate and emotional act of defiance by the object in an unusual setting, to the bold and unwavering nature of the title’s typography – combine to illustrate a visual representation of Nina Cried Power (the song)’s essential message: action and call for change has to be demanded and screamed straight into the faces of those who are holding it from you, even if it takes everything within you to do so. “It’s not the waking; it’s the rising” — nothing is born from simply acknowledging privilege and issues. Only when you act on it will change arise.
A few months following the release of his EP Nina Cried Power, Hozier released a 14-track album fittingly titled for its time of release. Wasteland, Baby!, similar to the preceding EP, reminds its listeners during a political climate riddled with apathy of the importance of human connection as a way to keep compassion alive.
Mixing attitudes of “unbridled optimism” with “complete despair, nihilism, and acceptance” towards the end of the world, Hozier’s faith in his fellow sinking shipmates reminds listeners of how despite it all, empathy has to survive if we want any chance to do the same.
Envisioned and painted by his own mother, visual artist Raine Hozier-Byrne creates an absolutely stunning album cover and masterful representation of her son’s artistic message. Similar to the EP’s cover, Hozier is underwater once again but this time, he lounges in contemplation in a chair with multiple objects floating around him.
The image of a calm, lost-in-thought individual contemplating while submerged underwater is a visual oxymoron. It perfectly encapsulates the album’s theme and title.
“Wasteland, Baby!” – a comedic expression of hopeless acceptance of grim fate.
Looking around our world today, one might utter “wasteland, baby!” as both an observation and a coping mechanism. Through the title track, Hozier calls for action: “and the stench of the sea and the absence of green / are the death of all things that are seen and unseen / not an end, but the start of all things that are left to do.”
Further shedding light on activism in the face of hopelessness are two particular details of the cover. First, Hozier’s hand holds what seems to be an activated tear gas canister, which resembles the Pulitzer prize-winning picture taken in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri in the early beginnings of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
On Hozier’s chest, a painted horizon is interrupted by black smoke as refugee boats are left burning near a shore. Raine indicates that these deliberate symbols of fighting for change ultimately signal one message: “we have to look out for each other. We have to stand up. We have to stand together. I have a responsibility to be a witness. Sometimes you can’t look away. You have to be a witness, and you have a responsibility to be a witness.”
Both details of the cover ties back to the album’s message on the vitality of human compassion in the face of adversity. The faith in a “squeeze of the hand” will be the surviving message of this album; whether it is from a lover, a higher power, or people with whom he shares the world, this faith is what Hozier believes we need to face the end or the beginning of everything. Here’s to our wasteland, baby!