The overwhelming international popularity of the cranberries’ 1993 Island debut Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? neatly demonstrated that pop music needn’t be devoid of honest emotion or keen intelligence in order to reap mainstream success. Now, on the group’s second release No Need To Argue, the young Irish quartet again produces music that effortlessly transcends fad and fashion in favor of timeless spiritual and musical truths.
No Need To Argue (produced once again by Stephen Street, of Smiths/Morrissey/Psychedelic Furs renown) boasts all of the elements that made its predecessor so captivating, from frontwoman/yricist Dolores O’Riordan’s uniquely arresting voice and vividly personal lyrics to the band’s lilting yet edgy melodicism. But the new disc’s 13 original compositions make it clear that the cranberries have come a long way since their debut. Tensely edgy rockers like “Zombie” and “I Can’t Be With You” and dreamily intoxicating tunes like “Ode To My Family” and “The Icicle Melts” answer the first album’s poignant odes to innocence with riveting lyrics that view the trials and disappointments of adult life with unflinching honesty.
“I think these songs have a strong confrontational feeling to them,” states Dolores O’Riordan. “A lot went down with the band since the first album, and a lot went down for me personally, and I think that’s reflected in these songs. I couldn’t really enjoy the success of the first album, because while it was happening I was having quite a bad time personally. I was really unhappy for a long time, but I didn’t really have the courage to face up to the situation. I was really confused for a long time, but eventually I sorted things out. These songs come out of a period in my life that I’d like to forget, but I don’t mind singing about it.”
That sort of emotional honesty has always been a cranberries trademark. Guitarist Noel Hogan, his bassist brother Mike and drummer Feargal Lawler formed the group — initially known punningly as The Cranberry Saw Us — as teenagers in their hometown of Limerick in 1990. Soon after the group’s formation, its original male vocalist was replaced by Dolores O’Riordan, a quietly intense young singer from Ireland’s Southwest countryside who’d been singing in church choirs and pubs since the age of five but had little background in popular music. Although the band originally began as a casual diversion, O’Riordan’s arrival signalled the birth of the cranberries as a serious band. The reconfigured foursome’s first release, a cassette only single of “Nothing Left At All” drew a vast amount of press and industry attention to the band’s quiet little corner of the world. One early admirer noted O’Riordan’s ability to hit “the most beautiful high notes you’ll ever get outside of La Scala,” while another noted that “no band since The Smiths has sounded quite so spectacularly vulnerable.”
“We were thrown in a the deep end,” Noel Hogan recalls of the cranberries’ early career. “We more or less started this band right after we learned to play our instruments, and very soon after we first got together we started getting a lot of notice because of our demos. We had no other choice but to get it together quickly and keep moving forward.” And move forward they did, quickly emerging as Ireland’s most-touted young band. The advance word-of-mouth became reality with the release of Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? which achieved almost-immediate success on both sides of the Atlantic, with the singles “Linger” and “Dreams” emerging as major smashes.
Typically, the cranberries seem utterly unfazed by their newfound international stardom, and that levelheaded attitude carried over into their approach to recording No Need To Argue. “I wasn’t gonna let a little bit of success stop me from expressing myself,” comments the recently-married O’Riordan, who adds, “I was between 18 and 20 when I wrote the lyrics on the first album, and I was between 20 and 22 when I wrote the new ones, so naturally they’ve moved on lyrically and experience-wise.”
“We wanted to improve on the first album and make it slightly different, because we didn’t want to take the easy way out by repeating ourselves,” explains Noel. “And we had all these songs that we’d built up in the two years since we did the first album, so we didn’t feel any pressure.”
“I wrote quite a lot while we were touring, which was something I really enjoyed,” says Dolores. “It was really nice that after a gig, in the middle of all the chaos, I’d be away into a corner with a guitar, writing about what I was feeling. Being famous and having people screaming at you doesn’t make me happy, but writing a song does.”
Indeed, the four members of the cranberries maintain a healthy skepticism towards the trapping of success. “The success seems to impress other people more that it impresses us,” Noel says. “I think it has a lot to do with where we’re from, and I think it helps that we still live at home in Limerick. We try to keep all the business and career stuff in the background, and just concentrate on music.”
When asked about the cranberries’ future, Dolores responds with typical forthrightness. “Life’s so unpredictable that there’s no point in planning anything,” says Dolores. “There’s a line in ‘Empty’ that goes ‘All my plans fell through my hands. None of us take thing too seriously, and if it all ended tomorrow, we’d just think ‘All well and good, we had a good time.’”