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The Cranberries

+ {Dolores O’Riordan} + {D.A.R.K.}

An alt-rock/indie styled major outfit, initially described as “The Irish Sundays”, The CRANBERRIES were distinguished by singer Dolores O’Riordan’s vernacular brogue; endearingly naïve and girl-ish one minute; howling banshee-esque the next. An acquired taste (one that millions worldwide worshipped), fans were drawn in, no doubt, by the band’s canny way of refurbishing a lush Celtic melody. At a time when grunge and Britpop were injecting an elixir of life into indie rock music, The CRANBERRIES mixed up their own fruit salad of big hitters by way of classics, `Linger’, `Dreams’ and `Zombie’.
Formed Moyross, near Limerick in Ireland, 1989; initially as covers combo The Cranberry Saw Us (geddit!), brothers Noel and Mike Hogan (guitar and bass, respectively), plus Fergal Lawler (drums) and singer Niall Quinn, were strengthening their resolve via a lone demo cassette EP, entitled `Anything’. But Niall soon departed after the jaw-dropping audition of one Dolores O’Riordan.
Further demos, `Water Circle’ and `Nothing Left At All’ (both issued by Xeric Studios), were beginning to sound out several interested parties in the music industry; one song in particular, `Linger’ (from the first of these EPs) impressed enough for a bidding war. Boss of the aforementioned Xeric enterprise, Pearse Gilmore, was now manager of the newly-monikered The CRANBERRIES, but arguments over his production techniques on the `Uncertain’ EP (their first non-cassette dispatch), led to his dismissal. In the summer of ’91, now signed to Island Records, the Irish quartet supported MOOSE on tour; O’Riordan subsequently guested on their album, `XYZ’.
1992 was a transitional year for The CRANBERRIES and things now were working tickety-boo with experienced manager, Geoff Travis. Although delays had shelved a proposed debut album, working with another seasoned producer, Stephen Street, led to the group’s first UK mainland release: `Dreams’; a wonderful example of O’Riordan’s range of vocal styles. Sadly, the buying public didn’t exactly warm to her folk-ish warble.
Early 1993, The CRANBERRIES finally made inroads to the British charts when `Linger’ tip-toed into the Top 75. Released a month later in March, scribed by Dolores and Noel, EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING IT, SO WHY CAN’T WE? {*8} went virtually unnoticed, that is, until February the following year when a re-issued `Linger’ (already a US Top 10 proposition) gate-crashed the UK Top 20. From then on in, the parent album slow-burned its way up to the top of the charts; helped by another re-issue hit; this time for `Dreams’; needless to say, America was finding the now platinum-selling Irish quartet equally effective. After these sloth-like beginnings, The CRANBERRIES were now hot property; the UK music press finally recognizing their unique talent. It was clear that Noel had been inspired by SMITHS guitarist JOHNNY MARR; non-singles `Pretty’ and follow-on track `Waltzing Back’, best examples; but for the need to sound off something seriously in-tune with their fresh sound, tracks such `Not Sorry’ and `How’, just might’ve given the set further singles success. That didn’t deter the in vogue Dolores, whom, in summer ’94 (just prior to marrying tour manager Don Burton), featured on JAH WOBBLE’S INVADERS OF THE HEART minor hit, `The Sun Does Rise’.
On the crest of a wave, The CRANBERRIES took a gamble on dropping a sure-fire follow-up, NO NEED TO ARGUE (1994) {*8}, having preceded the No.2 set with the wayward but acclaimed grunge-like `Zombie’ smash; a “loud” single in every sense. The wonderful `Ode To The Family’, `I Can’t Be With You’ (tracks 1 and 2) and `Ridiculous Thoughts’, continued the run of UK Top 30 singles, whilst Stephen Street again got the best results out of the emotive `Disappointment’.
Rumours were rife of O’Riordan racing off to a solo career. However, as their tougher and rougher third set revealed, this was never the case. TO THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED (1996) {*6} enlisting gloss-rock producer, Bruce Fairbairn, in what was surely a move to further dominate the American market. Songs about `Bosnia’ (ditto `War Child’), and an ill-advised Beatle ode (`I Just Shot John Lennon’) et al, didn’t prevent the record from cleaning up commercially once more, although most critics were unimpressed. Lead single, `Salvation’ (hp#13), the follow-up `Free To Decide’ (hp#33) and the sludge fest “Zombie part 2”, `Hollywood’, had neither the dynamics nor the staying power of their previous smash hits, but focal point Dolores was their saviour. If The CRANBERRIES thought they were harshly treated by the press on this occasion, they hadn’t dreamt of the stick they would endure for next record; and that came after lambast for cancelling their Australian and European tours.
Bolstered by a softer rock approach (despite the hard-edged single `Promises’ reaching hp#13), BURY THE HATCHET (1999) {*6}, smashed into the Top 10 for a week (Top 20 US). There was no denying that Dolores and The CRANBERRIES were in conflict on which direction to take, though this set stumbled, unintentionally, into either a jangly Celtic folk-rock (`What’s On My Mind’) or brief sonic saunters (`Delilah’); opener `Animal Instinct’ lost out on a Top 50 position, and surely babe Dolores and her melancholic muckers couldn’t get away with this sort of thing again.
The appropriately-titled WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE (2001) {*5} – their first and last for MCA Records – tried hard to recover lost ground, even to the extent of renewing their production partnership with Stephen Street. Yet despite valiant attempts at trimming the musical flab with politics, the album weighed in at a gross Top 50 in the US, and an even more disheartening No.61 placing in the UK. No hits then; the tide had turned, though there was redemption in `Never Grow Old’, `This Is The Day’ and `Analyse’’. It was inevitable with all the pressures upon them, the quartet went on an indefinite hiatus after a “best of” set in 2002.
DOLORES O’RIORDAN was heard of little unless one was an ANGELO BADALAMENTI or ZUCCHERO fan (she featured on respective tracks `Angels Go To Heaven’ and `Pure Love’), so when the lady in question announced her first full-set, ARE YOU LISTENING? (2007) {*7}. Trouble was, even though producer Youth was behind its darker, atmospheric passages, the record failed to reach its target audience. The download singles charts had just about put paid to anyone sophisticated enough to think out of the pop box, but critics loved again her hush-to-howl/lilt-to-loud vox on the likes of `Ordinary Day’, `In The Garden’, `Human Spirit’ and `Black Widow’.
Only a few years down the line, NO BAGGAGE (2009) {*7}, was another example of how to get the best out of Dolores’ trademark caterwaul; her music now crossing over between folk and space rock. Sharp, crisp and clean (she co-produced the set with Don Brodbeck), the album deserved a better return than its poor, unyielding sales; `Switch Off The Moment’, `Skeleton’, `The Journey’ et al, standing tall among her best songs yet.
The CRANBERRIES just had to get back together, and in 2010, resounding tours around Europe and America (LIVE IN PARIS 2010 {*6}), made their jangly jaunts worth examining a possible studio album with Stephen Street. The resulting ROSES (2012) {*6} turned the clock back a few decades, but once again critics seemed to give them the thumbs-down; it was certainly difficult to place any similar songs such as `Conduct’, `Tomorrow’, `Schizophrenic Playboys’ and the folk-y `Raining In My Heart’, in line with `Linger’ and so on; LIVE 2012 (2013) {*6} – recorded at Hammersmith Apollo – continued the live “best of” aspect of their long and illustrious career up to now.
Closing out the year with a prestigious New Year’s Eve concert in her hometown city of Limerick (alongside the Irish Chamber Orchestra), Dolores subsequently thought to expand the concept for a full-blown re-imagined “acoustic best of” CRANBERRIES retrospective. By spring 2017, SOMETHING ELSE {*7}, was giving the newly-signed BMG group a return to the UK Top 20, and if `Zombie’ was a little harsh on the ear first time around, its lilting re-vamp had an air of AOR/easy-listening; of the three fresh cuts, `Why?’ (a B-side written about the death of O’Riordan’s father), won the day over `The Glory’ and `Rupture’.
A little earlier, the previous autumn to be exact, Dolores was invited by Jetlag pair (bassist Andy Rourke and multi-instrumentalist/DJ/producer Ole Koretsky) to front New York-based side-project, D.A.R.K. The resultant album, SCIENCE AGREES (2016) {*6}, didn’t quite match up her once-soaring vocals to the robotic post-new wave tunes, but in `Curvy’, `Loosen The Noose’, `Gunfight’ and `The Moon’, one could see potential.
Maybe D.A.R.K. or The CRANBERRIES still had lots more in the tank; one’ll never know as tragedy struck the music world when, on 15th January 2018, it was announced that Dolores had died unexpectedly; she was only 46. A belated coroner’s report that September revealed that her death was the result of accidental drowning in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.
Contemplating whether to continue without the irreplaceable DO’R, Lawler and the Hogan’s opted to instead release their final group recordings; their sultry singer’s vox spawned from her demos she’d cut just hours before her untimely passing. Aptly-titled IN THE END (2019) {*7}, and opening with attendant single, `All Over Now’, there was more just a hint to the lads’ dramatic decision. Sales-wise, the Stephen Street-produced posthumous set did better than “Something Else”, denting the UK Top 10 in fact. All in all, it was a fitting epitaph to the diminutive Dolores and her steadfast cohorts – her missing vocal chords now immortalized through `Crazy Heart’, `Catch Me If You Can’ and the concluding tear-jerking title track.
© MC Strong/MCS/1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2018-Jun2019

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