Something Better Than I Am - on Dolores O'Riordan and The Cranberries

For some reason, The Cranberries’ song “Dreams”—their earliest single, the one that has the weird and unsettling wordless chanting and howling at the end—the one that dates back to the very early 90s, appears on both the soundtrack to the 1996 film Mission: Impossible, and, if my memory serves me correctly, it is one of the few songs from the soundtrack album to be used within the film itself, near the end.

It’s a weird choice—but I guess I kind of get it. The Cranberries, at the time, were signed to Island Records, and an Island subsidiary, Mother Records (founded by U2) was responsible for issuing the soundtrack. It’s a hopeful song—a shimmering anthem, and I mean sure, why not, you know? Have that underscoring Tom Cruise celebrating his victory over Jon Voigt and Jean Reno at the end of the movie.

The first time I heard The Cranberries was in the fall of 1993. I was ten years old, and the video for “Linger” came on MTV. I was transfixed. It’s a gorgeous song—it still is, 25 years later. It’s such a fascinating pop song—the intro is misleading as it awkwardly fades and segues into the song proper. It’s a dramatic song, tugging at your emotions with its lyrics of heartbreak and that sweeping string arrangement—truthfully the song would be absolutely nothing without them.

That first time I saw the video for “Linger” was one of the few times I managed to catch a video on MTV where they neglected to include the credits at the beginning and the end of the clip—it was only later when I was in Media Play—a massive music, books, and movies store I spent a lot of my formative years (and money) in, that I heard the song again, and promptly picked up the cassette single.

The next year, for Christmas, one of many compact discs on my wish list was the band’s second album, No Need to Argue—powered by the heavy, angry single “Zombie,” No Need to Argue contains another one of the Cranberries’ best ballads—the tender, nostalgic, and bittersweet “Ode to My Family.”

In 1996, on a birthday money spending spree, I bought the band’s third album—To The Faithful Departed, but by the time the band’s fourth album, Bury The Hatchet arrived three years later, and then their fifth, the unfortunately titled Wake Up and smell The Coffee arriving two years after that, my tastes had changed.

Once my wife and I moved in together, over 12 years ago, living in a slightly cramped one-bedroom apartment, we started reminiscing about ‘alternative’ music from the 1990s, and I ordered an inexpensive, used copy of the 20th Century Masters compilation for The Cranberries—amounting to a singles collection, it pulls together all the hits from the first three albums, and if you were paying attention at the turn of the century, two singles from Bury The Hatchet, and one from Wake Up.

I’ve listened to that singles collection twice tonight—it’s very short, only 11 songs. The voice of The Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, died today. News headlines dub it as ‘unexpected’ and ‘sudden,’ but in quickly glancing over the band’s Wikipedia page, a 2017 tour of Europe and North America in support of Something Else, the band’s orchestral and acoustic reinterpretations of past material, had been scrapped due to O’Riordan’s ‘health issues.’

There's already tabloid speculation on her death. The family and band want privacy and have not released a cause of death yet. In 2014, she had some kind of air-rage meltdown and became belligerent and violent while on an airplane, later being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

We should give her family, her band, and her memory the privacy that is deserved and warranted. 

The music of The Cranberries has, for the most part, aged surprisingly well. I mean, the anti-drug anthem "Salvation" has not. But not everything can. Their auspicious debut, Everybody Else is Doing it So Why Can’t We?, released well over 25 years ago, in revisiting a single like “Dreams,” I realized that it has a kind of post-Smiths shimmer and rhythm to it. I suppose that would be in part to the involvement of Smiths and Morrissey producer Stephen Street, who is responsible for manning the boards behind their first two records, as well as Bury The Hatchet. You can also hear that kind of bouncy, post-punk meets Brit Pop rollick in the band’s earliest EPs and demos, recorded when their name was still The Cranberry Saw Us.

As a lyricist, O’Riordan could be political without being preachy—an impressive and difficult feat to pull of. “Zombie,” the heavy, angst-ridden first single from their sophomore album, is about the IRA bombings in 1993; she wore her broken heart on her sleeve—so many of the band’s songs are sad love songs. “Linger,” obviously, but latter singles as well, like “When You’re Gone,” swoon with a powerful drama, punctuated by what a dynamic and impressive vocalist she was—interjecting yodeling, howling, and other wordless singing that gave the band’s music a raw sense of urgency.

You can’t write off The Cranberries as one-hit wonders, though they are, for better or for worse, a nostalgia act. A bulk of their singles charted very well, though things began to taper off near the end of the 90s. The band went on hiatus, and O’Riordan issued a few solo albums; she also appeared, as herself, singing a string heavy, slowed down version of “Linger” in the maligned Adam Sandler comedy Click.

The Cranberries reunited in 2009, and released Roses three years later; less than a year ago, they released Something Else, the aforementioned album of reinterpretations of their earlier material.

After reading about O’Riordan’s death, my wife discovered that some of the ‘youngins’ that she works with were not familiar with the music of The Cranberries. I suppose that if you were not cognitively aware of contemporary popular music in the early to mid 1990s, maybe you wouldn’t be. They’re an iconic outfit to an extent—“Linger” is, hands down, one of the greatest songs to come out of the 90s, and O’Riordan’s impact as a visceral frontwoman is ahead of her time for sure, but the band, as a whole, is arguably a product of its time.

Listening to my 20th Century Masters CD tonight, during “Ode to My Family,” I became a little more emotional than anticipated. To my surprise, thinking about Dolores O’Rirdan’s death, and revisiting this band’s work, hit me harder than I expected. My friend Scott felt similarly, telling me that he felt like ‘a piece of the 90s had been ripped from his chest.’ If you were alive during that time, this was your soundtrack, and revisiting it now, in this way, transports you back to a different time and place.

As with the death of any musician, their canon is quick to sell out and chart again. The Cranberries’ albums are all out of stock on Amazon, and a number of their releases are within the iTunes top ten at this moment. This is how you remember, I suppose, when someone is gone, but has left something behind.