What a great debut album! The Cranberries brought a fresh sound in the decade of 1990s, when indie rock swept in a great, new rush of music. At the time, this album rose to number 18 on the charts and had two hit singles. Over the years, it has sold over five million copies in the U.S. alone.
Grunge rock ruled the radio and the college music scene. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam were some of the harder-edged bands, but there was room for rounded corners and less grit. The Cranberries could thrash it but their guitars were more like the Byrds, ringing and a wide range of tonalities. They definitely had an Irish folkiness, akin to U2, and rich guitars like The Sundays and the Cocteau Twins of the 1980s. Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan had a voice that could sail in many directions, she was one of a kind. Her voice was the lead instrument for the band’s sound, it was defining and magical.
The Cranberries weren’t soft and cuddly, they could have distorted, reverb guitars, and then sound as smooth as the calmest ocean, silky and elegant. There was passion in their songs, sometimes bridled, other times thunderous as a rainstorm. Combining folk, blues and the jangling pop of 1960s guitar bands, their music could be bold, but then haunting and elegant. They were not afraid to use strings and wooden instruments. O’Riordan, a mezo-soprano, often sang with a lilting quality that highlighted her vocal dexterity and range. Listen closely and you hear her go up and down the scale with ease, punctuate certain notes and sing with tremendous emotion.
I mentioned R.E.M., and that might seem like an odd comparison, since these two bands grew up continents apart. Each had an earthiness, songs written with guitars and very expressive lead singers. Both bands seemed to buck the emerging musical style in favor of staying true to their roots.
Everyone recognizes the hit singles “Dreams” and “Linger” as they received a lot of radio play around the world.
“I Still Do” 3:16 Eerily haunting, lots of guitars and multi-tracked O’Riordan vocals.
“Dreams” 4:32 With zest, the first Cranberries’ single, robust sound, this song bets into your subconsciousness.
“Sunday” 3:30 Starting with a dream-like intro, it gallops ahead with orchestra and guitars and O’Riordan harmonizing with herself.
“Pretty” 2:16 A quiet song with pulsing electric guitars and O’Riordan.
“Waltzing Back” 3:38 A grittier song, bathed in echo, a bit like the Doors.
“Not Sorry” 4:20 Begins quietly and builds to a heavier song, but does not lose it beauty or its intensity.
“Linger” 4:34 A beautiful soundscape, a big hit for the band.
“Wanted” 2:07 A ringing song, an upbeat piece of pop, one of the best on the album.
“Still Can’t…” 3:38 A stirring, song that shows both their darker melodies and O’Riordan’s vocal flexibility. The guitars run hot on this song.
“I Will Always” 2:42 A slow, quietly, heavenly song.
“How” 2:51 Upbeat, blazing guitars, pounding beat, it’s hard to keep up with O’Riordan.
“Put Me Down” 3:33 Shimmering guitar work, ethereal vocal work.
Total length: 40:54
The Cranberries achieved a great deal of success in their time before the band went different directions. There were individual projects and personal problems. O’Riordan died as the band began working together and released an “unplugged” version of previously released songs with orchestral backing. After her death, the band released an album that featured O’Riordan’s vocals. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? is a great introduction to the band, as is their second album, No Need to Argue, with the international hit, “Zombie.”