Monday, September 24th, 2018

Hozier ft. Mavis Staples – Nina Cried Power

Hozier pays homage…


Ian Mathers: I guess I’m guilty of having paid more attention to the memes around “Take Me to Church” than to the song and Hozier himself, hence my genuine shock at him and an always-incredible Mavis Staples producing one of the best protest songs in recent years — certainly the best one that’s most about protest songs and the act of protesting (in art or not). It’s a good song even separate from that context (it’s got two good-to-great singers and a powerful backing) but while political stuff in art can lead to a ton of mileage being varied, I at least could use something this stirring right now.

Hannah Jocelyn: On first glance, it feels like deracination incarnate, the reduction of a half-century and much more of protest songs into, “Hey, Joni Mitchell and Curtis Mayfield are people that exist!” It risks becoming an Owl City-style gimmick for a subject that really should not have one. But Hozier seems aware of that, so it’s not attempting to be a protest song, but, as he says, a “thank you note” to those who actually fought. Unlike Arcade Fire, Hozier invites Mavis Staples for more than just clout, with Staples taking over around 40 per cent of the song. In the linked Billboard interview, he admits that his genre of music does not exist without “the work and the achievements and the legacy of black artistry.” So instead of the Owl City song, “Nina Cried Power” is actually closer to “Tribute,” only Hozier doesn’t claim to write the greatest song in the world. And anyway, there are far worse picks for “greatest song” than “Sinnerman.” 

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: If you examine “Nina Cried Power” too closely, it starts to fall apart — it’s a song about protest songs that also serves as a free-standing protest song about nothing in particular, which leads to some muddling of what’s actually being talked about, and so on. But in the moment, and especially as Mavis Staples tears up the bridge, that structural quibble fades away. “Nina Cried Power” is so effective of a delivery device for the raw feelings of righteous anger that it seeks to transmit that it feels silly to critique it once it gets going, all beatific invocation and booming choirs. I don’t even really like most protest songs, but “Nina Cried Power” convinces me that I do every time I listen to it.

Taylor Alatorre: “Where have all the protest songs gone,” the question so often asked by socially conscious Baby Boomers and teenage Bob Dylan fans alike, finally has an anthem of its own. To his credit, Hozier recognizes the limits of his range when he sings “power has been cried by those stronger than me,” but in the face of so much simulated grandiosity, it comes across as a hastily appended editor’s note. A more sincere recognition would’ve involved shortening the list of names and bringing Mavis’s voice to the forefront; it’d still be a cop-out, but show-and-tell is always more exciting than a book report.

Juan F. Carruyo: Tasteful, soulful, restrained. Also too damn respectable for my liking and a bit of a bore, as it assumes that mentioning the names of iconic people makes his meaningless slogan of a song title become true. It will make for a fine bathroom break when he takes to the stage to perform this at the next Grammys. 

Julian Axelrod: Bold move of the Grammys to drop their vaguely political protest performance five months before the ceremony.

Alfred Soto: Why the hell does Hozier sound like Tom Jones raging against a long buffet line? Why invite Mavis Staples?

Nortey Dowuona: Pumping, authoritative drums kick the door down as slow, soft piano chords rise, as lumbering bass guitar and heavenly coos rise, and Hozier yells about… power, I guess? Then Mavis Staples walks across the water rising in the room to pull out Hozier and place him on the shelf, where he continues to yell, while Mavis slowly pulls the song from the water, revealing a a humble, carefully sanded wooden carving of a carpenter’s table.

Micha Cavaseno: There is a great weird thing called “Soul-Boyism,” and the thing is, you don’t have to be a boy to do this, but whenever you have a nice, well-meaning, pale-faced lad like Hozier coming out to tell people about the greatness that is soul, well, uh… the jokes write themselves. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing that Nina, Billie, Mavis, or any brilliant vocalist were captivating forces. There’s certainly nothing wrong with even enlisting them to help you wax poetic on their brilliance. Perhaps there’s a bit of an error in legitimately writing a song that’s about the process of desperately grabbing on to that as you proceed to use such to bolster and prop oneself up with pseudo-messianic bombast. “Nina Cried Power” is, like every time rock artists inevitably use gospel to give themselves depth, an instantaneous failure marred with racism, buffoonery and preposterous histrionics. If he really wanted to be a nice lad who meant well, he’d stop invoking people better than the music he’s made thus far and make something that someone could maybe hold in similar regard. Good luck on that when you’re so ready to sell your fans on everyone else instead.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: There are more than a dozen artists mentioned here and absolutely none of them made a single protest song that was as self-serving and cowardly as this. Hozier “champions” a slew of musicians by reducing them to bullet points on a namedrop fest. Worst of all is how he doesn’t even have the decency to leave it at that. Instead, he makes brief mention of Trump’s wall to ensure that there’s a semblance of something political going on. The result is the laziest, most dangerous form of protest, and “Nina Cried Power” perpetuates a similar contentedness in behavior and ideology in its fans. One of the greatest things about music is how listeners can easily get swept up in the emotional grandeur of it all. Hozier understands how manipulative it can be, and makes a non-protest song that instills a deep urgency to… listen to the music of better songwriters? Let’s agree that he succeeded.

Reader average: [9.25] (4 votes)

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