Source: Bside (dec. 1993)
Author: Arsenio Orteza
When we Americans hear the term “Irish band”, we tend to think of the music of U2, Van Morrison, the Pogues, and Sinead O’Connor, musicians who, despite their differences, have the interesting reputation of possessing far more pure spiritual intensity than your average white band.
One wonders what Ireland’s Cranberries, whose Island debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, has recently hit the racks, think of the stereotype.
“it’s probably the way our purer people are brought up”, suggests Noel Hogan, the band’s main guitarist and melody-writer. “The Church would probably play a big part. Our parents are usually very religious, and when I was young I went to Mass every Sunday. Confession, too. Everybody I knew did.”
Dolores O’Riordan, the lead-singing Cranberry whose haunting and piercing voice receives the majority of her group’s adulation, concurs. “I suppose there’s a lot of culture involved in those bands you just names. The Irish culture is very strong.”
Like Noel, she credits the Roman Catholic upbringing that her countrymen receive for that strength.
It’s a nice childhood to have”, she explains. “I think I’ve become more aware of how nice it s since I’ve begun to travel and see a lot of corrupt and disgusting things.”
Dolores’s referring to a walk on the wild side she recently tool. “We were in Amsterdam, and I went down to the red light district. I was disgusted.”
Her brogue-heavy voice drops to a whisper, and she shudders as if she’d just stepped on a cockroach. “I wanted to see the planet – both extremes – but I was just shocked.”
I make the mistake of asking… and what did she find so shocking?
“Women sitting in windows with no clothes on!” she shoots back.
“You have that in America, too, don’t you?”
Uh, well, gee, I don’t know about –
“It’s really bad in Amsterdam. They’re really into pornography and all that business. I was so disgusted I didn’t want to be there anymore.
“But,” she interjects, “it’s good to get to travel and see things.”
The Cranberries are certainly getting to travel and see more of America then they ever expected to see, first doing their own tour in back June, then opening for the The-Frank Black tour, then hooking up with Suede. Those co-headlining dates with Suede seemed like an enchanting path to up and coming talented band Nirvana. It was an inspired idea, but things began to go wrong when Suede were forced to cancel shows in the Midwest due to a death in a band member’s family. The Cranberries suddenly found themselves doing part of tour solo. Then in a surprising move, they bowed out of the last days of the Suede tour, deciding to opt for opening for Duran Duran’s second extensive sweep through America from mid-October well into December. Perhaps The Cranberries just have a preference for bands with repeated words. What was even more surprising was that Suede cancelled its remaining dates after New York City once the lost the ‘Berries. No specific reason was given but one can only guess. Now The Cranberries are lucky enough to travel to exotic locales like Thibodaux, LA and Bethlehem, PA, but unlucky enough to have Duran Duran postpone those four dates at the legendary Radio City Music Hall. DD lead vocalist Simon LeBon ruptured something in his throat… hmm, perhaps he tried competing with Dolores’ soaring range?
Even so, all this travel is probably quite an event fir this subtle yet savage band. For most of their young lives (average Cranberry age: 22), the four Cranberries have lived in Limerick, Ireland’s third biggest city, according to Noel, with a population between 60 and 70 thousand. Dolores describes her upbringing as very sheltered and strict. Unlike Northern Ireland with its religious and political strife, Limerick still boasts ways of Irish life more in keeping with the romanticized versions as conveyed by Hollywood, Lucky Charms, and Irish Spring.
“When people thing of Ireland.” observes Noel, “they usually think of Dublin. But there are a lot of nicer places. Near where we live there are a lot of beaches and things.”
It was in this rich, elemental setting that The Cranberries – Dolores, Noel, Noel’s younger brother Mike (bass) and Feargal Lawlor (drums) – grew up and had their senses trained, and their rich, elemental music reflects it. Dolores has made much of her enjoyment of church music but insists that the British press has made too much of their Catholic upbringing with regard to the group as a whole. The Cranberries’ music, after all, even at its most gorgeous and ethereal, as in the songs “Dreams”, “Sunday”, and “Linger”, is at least as sensuous as it is spiritual. It’s also not surprising that Dolores openly attacks the British press, as she’s seen too much of what it can do to a fledgling band. Instead, she’s already shoving them away, making sure they can do no harm to her though her words.
What really sets the band apart from the spiritual are the aggressiveness of Dolores’ lyrics, which can range to the bewildered to the bitter. And when she performs these songs live, the intensity of the words shine though with much more conviction then on album. The album can convey a cuddly warmth due to the purity of the music, whereas live Dolores uses her voice as a weapon, striking notes with a vengeance. That slightly sweet cast that coasts the album is totally shredded, much the better for the band’s music.
At it’s best on their debut album the band grounds Dolores’s church-honed gift for improvisational vocalize in folk-pop melodies that betray her bandmates’ familiarity with the popish turn European post-punk took in the mid-eighties, they sound too tart. “Waltzing Back”s martial drums and melody, for instance, echo U2’s ‘Sundays Bloody Sunday’ to a fault.
But the live setting is the time to prove what you’re really made of, and here The Cranberries are living to their name, strangely bitter yet decidedly tasty. When they don’t add any sugar, the do sound tart, full of sharp bite. But live when they go into the aforementioned gorgeous and ethereal “Dreams”, “Sunday”, and “Linger”, Dolores creates a bewitching spell that only becomes more precious when contrasted against her onstage black-clad banshee demeanor.
“Linger’ is the first song we ever wrote,” states Dolores incredibly. Who would’ve thought anyone could’ve concocted such a perfect tune on the first try? “It’s our baby. There are only four chords, but it’s a grand song.”
Of the songs she and Noel have written since The Cranberries recorded Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Nearly one year ago, Dolores says, “I suppose they’re getting more experimental, musically. And maybe the topics are becoming a little more open and widespread.”
And more political, too. Onstage she describes a new song, “Zombie”, as being dedicated as their song for peace in Northern Ireland. The song has a finely honed edge to it, Dolores using it as a steely sonic sword to get her message across. In the context of their current set, it is the most serious and savage song, Dolores giving every fiver of her being over to it. This song also tells fans that if this is the oath their music is going to be taking, their second album could be a brilliant affair indeed, spiked with vinegar instead of sugar. Nice will no longer be the overused word for this beginning band.
Does Dolores worry that her songs, old or new, might lode something in translation as these tours the The and Duran Duran load the band to the largest venues of its three-year career?
“No,” she answers. “The more the merrier.”
And all of a sudden. Dolores sounds less like an ex-choirgirl from the quieter parts of Ireland and more like the unlikely candidate for pop stardom her band’s music has made her. As transitions go, this one should prove fun to listen to and watch. It may well be the Cranberries who will soon be headlining dates at Radio City, instead of opening for others: their album crashed into the top 50 party that’s normally reserved for those less talented…
Probably Dolores’ biggest task for now is to get the rest of the band over their intense stage fight. Bassist Mike acts as if he moves his fingers too hard someone will scold him for being too active. Brother Noel just needs to accept the fact that you can’t get around being onstage when you perform live, although his excursions into feedback prove promising.
But when the brothers trade a shy smile across the stage while Dolores is hitting some if her stunning high notes, you can tell they’re mentally thanking the day they found her.
And when Dolores decides to do a little step dancing at the conclusion of ‘Liar’, performing these precise steps in her bare feet, you can tell she’s taking these large venue tours in stride and also nodding to her Celtic heritage, even if at times she resents having the tag of Irish band adhered to her group. If she’s having any stage fight she’s certainly not going to let it show. Not Dolores. She has the secret to her band’s success contained in her petite frame, and while she’ll share that amazing gift of a voice with you, she’s not going to give anything else away. Not just yet. She’s seen enough to understand that once people get a taste, they could well devour a young band whole without any remorse for their inner feelings and personal pride.
But in the future… like I said, the transition should prove to be glorious indeed. They already have the pure power… they just need to weild it with all hands held fast.
The word nice will no longer apply. And thank Dolores for that.