Hozier review – who says pop can’t be political?

It’s almost a decade since Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s Take Me to Church – an impassioned anthem supporting gay marriage in Ireland, that was partly recorded in his attic – went five times platinum in the US and topped the charts in a dozen countries. Since then, there have been three albums (including this year’s Unreal Unearth, a UK No 1) and the 33-year-old Irishman is now playing to packed-out arenas full of screaming fans. Accordingly, he’s become more adept at handling vast crowds. He makes showbiz commands such as “If you know this one I’d like to hear y’all”, “conducts” the crowd’s call-and-response backing vocals, and isn’t averse to visual props such as tree roots that descend over the stage.

The music has scaled up, too, into an epic, earnest, occasionally slightly bombastic blend of crunchy rock and soul, with arena-friendly choruses and massed “whoah whoah whoah”s. It’s a wind tunnel of sound with the former chorister’s enormous yet ethereal voice at the centre. Only briefly – with 2013’s lovely Cherry Wine – do we get a glimpse of the solo acoustic singer-songwriter who was playing open mics before his music took on a big band and an array of co-writers and producers. Still, it’s hard to argue with the elemental First Light, superbly hymnal Work Song (a duet with Abigail Morris from support act the Last Dinner Party) or a Take Me to Church so righteously enormous the resulting crowd roar may well be heard in Dublin.

His inner activist unleashed, Hozier suddenly launches into an impassioned monologue over hypnotic drumming, during which he appeals for equality and “body autonomy” for women, quotes Irish republican and revolutionary socialist James Connolly (“no revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression”) and urges everyone to do what they can to support a ceasefire in Gaza. This all serves as an extended intro to rousing civil rights tribute Nina Cried Power. He’s undoubtedly made compromises to achieve this scale of success, but it’s given him a platform he’s clearly going to make use of.


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