The cranberries’ first album outsold all other debuts by an Irish band. As the release of their second coincides with a shaky kind of peace in Ireland, the band unveil a tougher approach and Dolores calls for the return of violent justice What’s so enthralling about Dolores O’Riordan today, as she dances and poses in a Dublin studio, is the pencillength scar running down the lefthand side of her leg from her lower thigh to the topof her calf. Like a twist of clumsily applied dark lipstick, it’s an endearing, flaw, and yet it also conveys a strength of character that seemed so lacking when The Cranberries first performed in Britain three years ago. That night, at London’s Camden Underworld, they shuffled on before a thin crowd of curious hacks and business insiders. The teenage singer hardly faced the crowd long enough for the assembled photographers to snap a frame. Despite reverential talk of The Sundays, The Sugarcubes and the Cocteau Twins, and O’Riordan’s astonishing, eloquent vocabulary of whoops, lilts and sights, the experience was nevertheless entirely underwhelming. The reviews unanimously failed to declare The Cranberries as the future of rock’n'roll. Dolores clutches the ankle of her brown, kneelength boot and gradually pulls her foot up to her bum, stretching the scar tissue taut in accordance with her physio’s orders. “At 18 I left home because I wanted to sing,” she recalls. “My parent s wanted me to go to college and things like that. I was really poor for a year-and-a-half; I remember actually being hungry, like I’d die for a bag of chips. That’s when I joined The Cranberries. I wanted to live in the city, because I wanted to get tough as a woman. I knew that if I stayed at home…the only way, as a woman,you could get out of my house was to get married, that whole Catholic family thing. So I kind of did a runner.” Six months after their debut appearance, The Cranberries released a single called ‘Uncertain’, one of the most depressingly self-descriptive records of recent memory. By then the consensus was that the original demo must have been a bit of a fluke. The Cranberries were officially missing, presumed for gotten.Then a Kafkaesque legal hassle with a former manager followed, and the band turned up for a show at Dublin’s Rock Garden. They were hardly Aerosmith, but there was a quiet poise developing. The -odd people who showed up were impressed, perhaps more than they expected to be, but it all looked – for The Cranberries- like it might be over before it had really started.
“I know,” remembers Dolores. “People turned their backs on us-England, Ireland,everybody. We went to Europe then, supporting Hothouse Flowers, and we had Germans saying ‘Wo ist der Hothaus Flowrz?’. I was thinking: What’ll I do? Just give it all up? Go home? Go back to my mother’s house, retire, get married, have ten children, what?” The turning point came in the autumn of 1992, when The Cranberries finished recording their debut Album for Island with former Smiths producer and Morrissey collaborator Stephen Street. It was a collection of gracefully arranged pop songs delivered in a voice destined to attract more elaborate metaphors about windsurfing angels than Liz Fraser or Harriet Wheeler could conjure. On ‘Pretty’, an eerie hiccup in the title word suggested the tape had been stretched.’Put Me Down’ had a wordless chorus of surely impossible height, range and power. On ‘Dreams’, a neat slice of straightforward radio pop was subverted by a giddy descent into counterharmonising caterwauls. Clearly teetering on the cusp of greatness, The Cranberries played an arts festival in Wick, Scotland, 15 miles south of John O’Groats. Their journey from Limerick took them more than 40 hours by car and they went straight back home the following day. The 60 people and four adolescent Goths who turned up seemed to enjoy it, the rattling acoustics and Dolores’ hour-long effort to vanish behind her fringe notwithstanding. As one of the 64-strong audience, I asked guitarist Noel Hogan what he and his band were doing there. “I have no idea,” he replied, “at all.” There was a brilliantly judged pause.
“And you?” over breakfast the next morning, Dolores informed her hungover fellow diners that the album would be called “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” When interviewed she was personable and gently opionated, but spoke in a voice barely audible over the tape hiss. Today, she says clearly: “I did realise that if I stood sideways for the rest of my life, it wasn’t really going to happen. It was cute at the time, though.” Dolores O’Riordan, in an eventuality that not long ago had seemed as likely as an IRA ceasefire, has become a pop star. The Cranberries sold two million albums in America alone, the largest sales for a debut from an Irish band. When you consider the competition, it’s going some. “Yep,” she confirms. “Whatever. Pop star, rock star, alternative rock. I can do all that.” More surprisingly, she seems to be enjoying herself. Just a week ago she played to tens of thousands of people, kicking off the second day of Woodstock II in fine style, escaping just before the arrival of the torrential rain that turned the festival into a mudbath. She encouraged the mob to clap along to ‘Dreams’.
She got them to sing along to The Cranberries’ version of The Carpenters’ ‘Close To You’ while she did deadpan high-kicks back and forth across the stage. The night before, as a whirling ghost shrouded in white, she’d done the same before a capacity crowd of 6,000 in front of the Summer Stage in New York’s Central Park. It seems quite a metamorphosis. “Of course, yes. I’m…I’m a woman now. I’ve travelled, I’m married, I’ve done lots of things and seen a lot now. Anyway, inevitably I would feel differently at 18 than when I was 21 or 22, wouldn’t I?” Dolores got married – to Duran Duran’s tour manager Don Burton, no less – in Tipperary, in white leather boots, bikini dress and lace leggings. She still guffaws at the memory. “They kicked up war in Ireland, controversy of the week, like, on the front page of everything. Giving out shit about my morals, they were. I thought it was a laugh.” “Yeah, Yeah, I can. The time when we went to one big open-top venue on that American tour with Suede, this place that held 4,000 people, and it was all sold out. I just thought ‘Oh Jesus’. Every song was too fast, we were so nervous. We kind of relaxed after that, though. You just take a few deep breaths, remember that you’re still a human being and get on with it.” This is Noel Hogan, asked if he can think of a particular moment when it became clear that The Cranberries had cracked it. Noel and drummer Fergal Lawler are sitting in the lobby of Manhattan’s Novotel Hotel, a place with delusions of post-modern grandeur that resembles a Bulgarian disco. Noel is much as he was, cautious and quiet, old before his time, with a rather wonderful wintry wit that breaks cover only rarely. Fergal, on the other hand, breaks is a man playing the role he was born for. I’d once entertained the possibility that he was mute. This morning, he is the very model of a modern rock’n'roll drummer, his hair short and awkwardly bleached, his constant smile framed by a wispy go atee, yammering away at a mile-a-minute. He is charming (“Milk?Sugar?”), likeable, and not above blurting out that “at the end of the day we just play music that we like, and if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus”. Fergal is especially keen on not letting any of it go to his head. “There are bands – you see quite a lot of them in Dublin – who’ve made one album that hasn’t even gone anywhere, and they’re walking around in cowboy boots and leather trousers with sunglasses on indoors, walking into fuckin’ walls. I hate people like that, I really do.” Asked if they’ve ever once let the temptations of the rock’n'roll myth distract them, the pair fall briefly silent.
“We trashed those Porsches, remember,” says Noel, staring bleakly into his glass of milk. When reminded that his band have achieved more in less time than any other Irish act, he idly wonders:”Does that get us in the Guinness book, then?Must do. I’ll keep an eye out for that.” Noel seems genuinely surprised when confronted with the idea of his gradual elevation to the major league, and then shrugs. “We haven’t really taken any notice. You can’t become obsessed with everyone knowing who the band are, you know. We just always treat it like we would as if we were playing in…Wick.” “For example,” adds a giggling Fergal.Their memories of a recent fashion spread done for ‘Rolling Stone’ provide a reasonable illustration of their attitudes. “We always wear faily shitty clothes, just jeans and stuff,” explains Fergal. “So we thought, why not try it out and do it for the laugh. We had a good crack, like.” Did you keep the gear, then? “Yeah. I got mine for about 70 quid or something, which was much less than it was worth.” “Well, I bloody gave mine back,” says Noel. “Gladly. I mean, it did get boring after a while. And we were on the street in these really …well, I thought, stupid-looking clothes. We were down in the East End of London, with all these winos coming up and… well, it was an experience, anyway.” The night before in Central Park, we had been treated to the innovative spectacle of Noel in full-tilt guitar-hero mode, crouched over his amp, flailing away at his guitar, coaxing forth squalls of feedback. The song he was playing was ‘Zombie’, the first single from The Cranberries’ imminent, laudably ambitious and again Street produced second album, No Need To Argue. It’s an arresting song in style and content -the former, unabashed ringing rock; the latter, a seething condemnation of the IRA with Dolores bringing forth a fearsomely angry vocal 66rom a previously untapped reservoir of bile. Hardly the universally understandable lovelorn withfulness of ‘Dreams’ or ‘Linger’ and, as such, aneccentric choice of single. One senses the presence of A Statement of one kind or another.”I know that a lot of people who listen to ‘Zombie’ won’t even know what it’s about,” says Noel. “It’s more the feeling of it. We don’t want to be seen as a pop band, and ‘Linger’ and ‘Dreams’ are pop songs. We don’t want to end up in this hole we can’t climb out of.”
Dolores, who wrote “Zombie”, is more strident about its subject matter. “It was written on an English tour about a year-and-a-half ago, when there was a big eruption of trouble between Northern Ireland and London, and it was doing my head in. For a while, things were gnawing at me about the whole bombings thing, and I was reading articles about what was going on in Bosnia and the way women and, more painfully, kids were being treated. “At that time there was the bomb in Warrington, and those boys were killed. I remember seeing one of the mothers on television, just devastated. I felt so sad for her, that she’d carried him for nine months, been through all the morning sickness, the whole thing, and some…prick, some airhead who thought he was making a point, did that. I mean, hello?” The fact that the IRA claim their atrocities are carried out for the greater good of Dolores’ homeland seems to strike a particular dischord: “The IRA are not me. I’m not the IRA. The Cranberries are not the IRA. My family are not. When it says in the song,”It’s not me, it’s not my family”, that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland, it’s some idiots living in the past, living for a dream. OK, I know that they have their problems up there, but there was no reason why that child should have been taken, why that woman should have gone through that.” ‘Zombie’ is the only song explicitly about The Troubles to have been recorded by a major Irish group in recent years, unless you count American rappers House Of Pain’s fatuous rebel blusterings. It hits home with the rawness of its sentiment and a blistering delivery. With so much discourse-cultural and political-on Northern Ireland concerned with history, protocol, ideology, semiotics and detail, Dolores wonders simply, incredulously, what a person is thinking when they detonate a bomb in a shopping arcade. “What’s in your head, zombie?” she demands. “I really don’t give a shit-excuse the vulgarity- but don’t care whether it’s Protestant or Catholic, I don’t care whether it’s England or Ireland. At the end of the day I care about the fact that innocent people are being harmed. That’s what provoked me to write the song, it was nothing to do with writing a song about it because I’m Irish. You know, I never thought I’d write something like this in a million years. I used to think I’d get into trouble.” As for the recent, sudden outbreak of precarious peace brought about by the Irish Republican Army’s ceasefire announcement, Dolores in not exactly full of optimism. “It’d be marvellous if the country were at peace, but I’m a little sceptical that peace will remain.” It rapidly becomes apparent that Dolores is one of life’s compulsive carers, a haemorrhaging heart, someone incapable of viewing the world’s ills with any kind of detachment. She talks of what she’s been reading about Bosnia and Rwanda with genuine anguish. She appears truly mystified as to why bad things happen to good people, expressing feelings of guilt that she is living an enviable life while millions aren’t.
At times, thinking yourself clever and worldly and her naive and innocent, you feel as if you’re discussing politics with Bart Simpson’s little sister. At others, she has a way of scything directly through the bullshit that make you embarrassed at your own cynicism. And again, at other times, it all just gets a bit odd. Dolores is especially concerned about children. Another new song, the weird and wracked “The Icicle Melts”, would appear to be a reaction to the murder of Jamie Bulger (” I don’t know what’s happening to people today/ When a child can be taken away “). “I love children,” she affirms. “You know, kids, they’re so innocent, and so afraid, and they’re the future of the world. How can people harm them ?” But Jamie Bulger was killed by two other children; surely the young have the same capacity for evil as the rest of us? “I think if those two kids knew that the penalty for that was being hung by the neck, I don’t think they’d have done it. I think hanging should be brought back for murder. I know it sounds sick and everything, but I do.” Don’t you think that even the most crime-weary Daily Mail-reading disciplinarian would baulk at stringing up pre-teens? “If they’d known beforehand, though…I still think the penalties are too nice. One of my brothers is a prison officer. I know, personally, people who have gone: ‘I just got out of prison yesterday and I’m bored, I’ve got no money, I’m gonna steal a car and go straight back in.’ Some people like it in there. What happened to the days of being thrown into the cell and being starved and beaten every day? At least make them bleed.”
She is possibly joking at this point. She will nonetheless run for Home Secretary without my vote. Despite a sense of justice and taste for retribution that seem to place her somewhere to the right of Terry Dicks, Dolores repeatedly speaks of wanting to use her position in some way for the common good. When asked whether she would give away much of the money she is likely to earn, she says she’d use it to stage concerts for causes, make an effort to “heal the world, make it a better place, blah, blah, blah…” It seems fair to wonder whether her hyperactive conscience is still tied in with the Catholic faith or any particular Christian belief. “Well,” she says, “I was never like: ‘Hello, I’m a Catholic and I’m into Jesus Christ and john and all the boys,’ you know. When I was a teenager I was, like,falling asleep in church, but when it came to the hymns, then I was like yes!,because I loved the hymns, the Gregorian hymns.” Great tunes. “Oh, great tunes. That’s definitely where rock’n'roll came from!”
She winks, and laughs. “I suppose being brought up a Catholic was good, as opposed to having a mother into voodoo or black magic or something. It could be worse.” What did you think when Sinead O’Connor tore the Pope’s photograph? “I thought…
she’s very hurt by the church. Well, not by the church, because the church is actually the people, but you know what I mean. She was taught too many things as a kid that she had a pretty hard time as a kid. “I did meet her briefly once. She had a great handshake, you know, I got a feeling that she was very honest. Too honest. She’d say things to me, and I’m like:’Shhh! Noooo, tell you boyfriend that, or write a song, or go to sleep, or watch television.’” Like Sinead, Dolores has had her share of emotional scars, and they run far deeper than the weal on her leg. “The Catholic church does, for some people, leave lots of scars. And I have to say I didn’t come out smiling from my Catholic childhood. I had lots of problems, you know, lots of hang-ups. But you get over it and get on with life. Whatever was good, take that with you.Whatever was bad, get over it, get it out of your head, leave it behind. And that’s what I think I did. I don’t go to church very much any more, you know.”