Another music legend dies requiring another one of these sad, memorial posts.
Dolores O’Riordan was unmistakably one of the Voices of the Nineties. The Cranberries may not have been as big and important as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but hearing her sing a single note will instantly take those of us who were alive in the 90s back to that time as easily as hearing Kurt scream or Eddie wail. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? was a required album if you were in college at that time.(fn)
I’m not sure The Cranberries got enough credit for how good their first two albums were. Combined, I think they stack up pretty favorably against any other bands best two albums of the decade. Are they going to beat The Bends and OK Computer, or Nevermind and In Utero, or Vs. and Vitalogy? Probably not. But they’re in the argument. I listened to both albums all the way through yesterday and didn’t want to skip past a single track.
The Cranberries also came along at the perfect time in my life. I went through a stretch of 2-3 years where I made a series of poor decisions, had some bad luck, and became intensely unhappy with where I was in life. To be very clear, I didn’t make any catastrophic choices and was likely just depressed during this period. I didn’t do anything destructive to myself or others or feel like life wasn’t worth continuing. But, still, I was in a place where the sadder, more introspective music of the times spoke to me even more than music always had. The Cranberries wrote sad songs about longing and being overlooked and wishing for better things. Those songs mattered to me back then.
The initial reports are that O’Riordan’s death was not suspicious, which I hope turns out to be true. She struggled with her mental health over the years. While her death is sad regardless of cause, you hope it was just her heart deciding it was done pumping blood rather than a moment of despair that led to her making a choice not to go on.
There are Cranberries song lists all over. With what they meant to me back in the day, I would feel silly if I didn’t share a few of my own.
“Analyse” – The last Cranberries song I ever really liked, it is from 2001’s Wake Up And Smell the Coffee. Those underlying guitar chords recall some of their early classics. O’Riordan’s vocals were as great as ever. For me, this was a fine late-period reminder of their quality. I remember hearing this on the old Music Choice channels on my cable provider and thinking, “Wow, they’ve still got it.”
“Free to Decide” – 1996’s To The Faithful Departed was the end of peak period Cranberries. Plenty of solid songs on the disk, but you could feel them perhaps getting a little too broad in their writing as the intimacy of their early work was fading. This song is, in many ways, O’Riordan’s Corduroy, a song in which she reclaims ownership of her private life from the media.
“Disappointment”/“Ridiculous Thoughts” – This 1-2 punch on the back half of No Need To Argue still floors me. “Disappointment,” with it’s slow, dreamy build is a deceptively savage take down. Is there anything worse than being called a disappointment? And on “Ridiculous Thoughts,” the band dispensed with the subtleties and just rocked out while O’Riordan continued to blast whoever had wronged her.
“Linger” – This song was always just a touch too maudlin for my tastes. But judging by all the other comments I’ve read over the past couple days, there are a lot of folks who think this was the band’s best song. It certainly takes me back to ’93-94 every time I hear it, though.
“Dreams” – Their first single announces itself with those epic, jangly chords that I will never, ever forget. And O’Riordan’s voice! Who wasn’t just completely blown away the first time you heard her open up and sing without restraint? The closing stretch, where she is half singing, half yodeling, should go into a time capsule. If you were in a relationship in the mid-90s, or even just trying to start one, this song HAD to be part of the soundtrack to those moments.