The death of Delores O’Riordan lead singer of that great 90’s band The Cranberries, shocked the music world.
As lead singer it was her haunting vocals which helped the band garner fans across the globe.
In this feature itchysilk’s #semtex discusses their relevance and their classic back catalogue which helped shape the 90’s.
To be a product of living coherently in the 90s, a relationship with The Cranberries was not only inevitable but absolutely critical to fine-tuning one’s angst. In contrast, the “angst” of the modern era is all an extremely phony grafting which can be easily culled from the world of Pinterest and Tumblr. The pure and unironic Weltschmerz of existing in this decade was indicated to perfection by the whining, pained lilt of Dolores O’Riordan in conjunction with her integral bandmates, Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler.
Starting with the fittingly defiant studio album, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993), The Cranberries established a maudlin, philosophical tone that would set the stage for the bulk of the mid-90s’–it wasn’t until the end of the decade that things would get more dance-oriented.
With their first single, Dreams, the unnerving vocals of O’Riordan are haunting no matter how many times you listen to it as she wails, Ah, la da ah la da ah la, la in between prophesying about one day meeting her true love. The combination of the band’s Irish sensibilities and the London flashboy flair of producer Stephen Street (who has worked with The Smiths/Morrissey and Blur), helped Dreams to be a solid gold hit in all corners of the globe.
Even before Enigma’s Return to Innocence (1994) found a place on the charts with its auditory motif of etherealism, The Cranberries were blazing the trail for an authentic sort of mysticism paired with more than a tinge of agony. For the purposes of finding music that could mirror your anguish you also had your Bikini Kill, your Hole (that sounds a bit naughty, I know), your Garbage.
Through her despairing voice, O’Riordan had a way of delivering the sad realities of life a little more gently
However, The Cranberries were more contained in the rage they expressed. It was in many respects over-shadowed by a certain sadness, oh so carefully and poetically delivered. Rather than railing against an unnamed oppressor (in most cases, “a man”), The Cranberries kept it a lot more, shall we say, staid. The most “out of control” was on Salvation from their third album To The Faithful Departed (1996). Somewhat harshly, it was named by Q Magazine as one of the 50 Worst Albums Eve in ‘06–but then, Fergie had yet to release Double Dutchess (2017).
The zenith of their fame was, undeniably, in between Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? and To The Faithful Departed, with No Need to Argue (1994), featuring their most iconic and therefore karaoke-oriented staple, Zombie. Inspired by the apparent status quo of political tensions in Northern Ireland that were subsequently destroyed when a bomb exploded in the city center of Warrington in March of 1993, the lyrics of the song are straightforward.
Another mother’s breaking/Heart is taking over/When the violence causes silence/We must be mistaken.
Referring to the bombs being planted by members of the IRA, O’Riordan was horrified to learn that among the lives taken were that of a three-year-old and a twelve-year-old boy, hence her sympathy for a mother losing her child. She wrote the song soon after in isolation, subsequently taking it to her bandmates and, once again, Stephen Street for the electric guitar treatment (though the original plan was acoustic).
So, it was born: the song that every moody teenager from London to Los Angeles would blast with confident ferocity from their cars, Walkmans (or Discmans if they were particularly affluent) and stereos. The band even got name checked in Clueless (1995), that commercially successful ode to another U.K. icon, Jane Austen. Sulky Elton (Jeremy Sisto) suddenly frets over the sudden realization that he doesn’t have his Cranberries CD, declaring to Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn), “I can’t find my Cranberries CD. I gotta go to the quad before anyone snags it.” And later, of course, before confessing his desire to be with Cher–not Tai (Brittany Murphy), why would he go with Tai?–“Away” plays on his car’s CD player (this was a song only available on the box set version of the album, mind you, so Elton really must have been a fan).
So it was that Clueless provided the watershed moment for the band and truly signified that they had saturated 90s pop culture by penetrating the United States. And it didn’t stop there. Another key film geared toward the teen audience, Empire Records (1995), also features The Cranberries on its soundtrack with the cut Liar. It’s a track which proves their influence over capturing a distinct introspective and lugubrious zeitgeist of the 90s.
In their final album, Bury the Hatchet (1999), O’Riordan’s songwriting took on an even more personal tone due to giving birth during The Cranberries’ first hiatus that began in ‘96. With a new perspective on life, tracks like Animal Instinct (the second single) and You and Me offered an overtly maternal slant, all while still sustaining that alt-rock “edge.”
Apart from the singles that carried the album to chart success (despite it being panned by many critics), there is the impossible sadness of the minimalist Shattered. Once again O’Riordan employed her signature drawn out lyrics as she laments,
I don’t like you, don’t compromise/Shattered by your weakness/Shattered by your smile/And I’m not very fond of you, and your lies.
Through her despairing voice, O’Riordan had a way of delivering the sad realities of life a little more gently than any other essential 90s groups. That she could pierce one’s heart with anything she sang was a gift made all the more powerful by what she actually said. O’Riordan’s voice was an instrument in and of itself and it is her trenchant vocals that will allow The Cranberries to endure beyond the lens of being just another “90s band.”