“I have decided to leave you forever and I have decided to start things from here.
Thunder and Lightning won’t change what I’m feeling, oh oh.
And the daffodils look lovely today…
And the daffodils look lovely today….” Dolores O’Riordan, Daffodil Lament
You couldn’t really go anywhere in ’94 and ’95 without hearing that song, Zombie, by The Cranberries. In amongst Carnival by Natalie Merchant, No More I love Yous by Annie Lennox and anything off of Jagged Little Pill from Alanis Morissette, there was this song with a thundery bassline and female lead with a storm of a voice. I actually didn’t really like it at first, but then I found out it was IRISH and I was ON BOARD. She was singing about The Troubles! And she references the 1916 rebellion! It wasn’t long after that song made peak saturation that I picked up the CD, No Need to Argue from HMV. From the very first track, Ode to my Family, I knew this album was going to be special. The way the lead singer, (who I eventually came to know was Dolores O’Riordan from Limerick), sang out, “Does anyone care? Does anyone care?” at the end made me smile. I was in a wilderness period with my other beloved Irish Band, U2, (This was that odd period between Zooropa and Pop where it was uncertain if they would ever bounce back), and was happy to turn my attention, at least for a little while, to another group of artists from my ancestral homeland. The fire really kicks in with the next track, I can’t be with you but the next song spoke to me directly. Twenty One. I remember listening to this album in a god damn DISCMAN on the bus home to St. James and noting at the time that I was 21 too. It was as if Dolores was singing to me. Then you get that popular outlier, Zombie, four songs in. It’s interesting because that song doesn’t really sound like anything else on that album, but that’s the song for which The Cranberries will probably be most remembered. (Maybe tied with Dreams from the previous album). The second half of that album has some gems, too. The longingly beautiful Dreaming my Dreams, the “fuck you” to depression song, Ridiculous Thoughts, Daffodil Lament (my wife’s personal fave, I think) and that calm after the storm/relationship/illness is over, the titular No Need to Argue. I fell in love with that album, and I fell in love with Dolores O’Riordan. I loved how it was so steeped in melancholy but didn’t feel sad to me. It felt angry, and wistful maybe, but never just sad. I didn’t know melancholy could have so much energy. Keep in mind that this was the year after I got let out the hospital after being on a psych ward for 4 months getting all manner of treatment for Depression and my own brand of “Ridiculous Thoughts”. It was a rebirth of sorts for me (I’ve talked about this before) and a part of this rebirth was trying new things, finding new sounds, going to new places, and The Cranberries were definitely a part of that. I went back and got their earlier album, and loved it almost as much as No Need to Argue. I say “almost” because you never quite get over your first love, do you? Of course the two standouts off of the first album are Dreams and Linger (no surprise there).
And can we talk about Dolores’ voice for a second? It is pitch perfect, and I can’t really think of anyone else who can sound so strong and so fragile at almost the same time. I loved seeing her on late night talk shows, and to hear her lovely Limerick accent answering questions from the likes of David Letterman and (ugh) Jay Leno.
I also loved how her songs would show up in the oddest of places, like in a café scene towards the end of Mission Impossible where Ving Rhames and Tom Cruise are parting ways (SPOILERS ON A 22 YEAR OLD MOVIE YOU GUYS), and in You Got Mail when you see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan going about their days. That’s a pretty versatile song, people.
Even though I loved those first two albums to bits, then it was the third release, 1996’s To the Faithful Departed that provided my best Cranberries memory. They were coming to town! Someone I worked with was as big a fan as me, and put the word out to see if anyone wanted to go to the show. I spoke up right away, and my co-worker came through with the goods. This third album didn’t do as well in sales as No Need to Argue (how could it?) and critically it placed 25 on Q’s list of “The worst 50 albums ever” in 2006, but I loved it almost as much. It is kind of trapped in a particular ‘late ’90s’ feel, being preoccupied with the war in Balkans on many tracks, this coming from Dolores’ work with the War Child charity. In fact, one of the more quiet, lovelier songs on this album is called War Child. It is a product of its time.
The chorus to one of their big singles, Free to Decide, goes like this:
“I’m free to decide, I’m free to decide. Well I’m not so suicidal after all”
and it always kind of bothered me that she made explicit reference to suicide in such a big song. But I sort of took it again in the spirit of Ridiculous Thoughts from the previous album. Maybe if we name it we take its power away from it. Maybe we can conquer it, overcome it. I read a recent article online about Doug Ault (digression time: feel free to go refill your drinks). It’s a long article so feel like you have to go read it, but it’s about the Toronto Blue Jays’ first real star from 1977 and his career and how in 2004 the world lost him through suicide. The article makes the point that with suicide victims it’s not really like their life is great and then it takes a terrible turn, but rather that every day is a struggle and a victory of hope over despair, until the day that it isn’t. I never really thought of it that way before, and it was heartening and revolutionary to me to think of a person surviving (and maybe even thriving sometimes) despite having ridiculous thoughts (and bad sleeps) on a regular basis. It was about the dawn coming after the darkness, and I cautiously embraced the idea.
Anyway, the darkness is never fall from the surface in a Cranberries song. But neither is the wit. My favourite song off the album (and I maybe foolishly tweeted that this was favourite Cranberries song of all to Amanda Palmer today) is Forever Yellow Skies. It is fast and loud and full-on PRESENT and I am HERE FOR THIS SONG. The chorus is clever in that it goes, “Forever, forever I’ll be, forever holding you. Forever, forever I’ll be forever holding you…” and you’re thinking “how lovely” but then like German grammar you gotta wait for the last word in the sentence for it all to make sense and Dolores sings, “responsible, responsible, responsible, responsible oh oh oh!” and it’s funny and cheeky and oh so Irish.
So you can imagine my excitement in 1996 to be ROW NINE with a group of like-minded co-workers and the lights went down and the opening drum beat of Forever Yellow Skies opens the show. “Dolores must love this song as much as I do if she’s making it the opener!” I thought to myself, and then the bassist appeared on stage playing the bouncy counterpoint to the frenetic drumming, and then a moment later the guitarist (I don’t know any of their names except Dolores, obvs) comes on and begins his part and by that point we are all on our feet and……..out steps Dolores to centre stage and she grabs the mic and wails into it. The buildup was longer and more dramatic live, and she didn’t start the “oh oh ohs” until after the guitar part (the reverse of what you hear on the album but if you click on this link you’ll get a sense of what I am talking about).
We were all wondering how she’d be, because just a week earlier she had injured her leg in a skiing accident, so there was some concern that she wouldn’t be as mobile as she’d like, but she seemed to be in fine form. The only concession to the injury was that she wore a leg brace, but it didn’t seem to slow her down. The concert flew by, and it was so wonderful to finally see this band, this woman with whom I had such an emotional attachment perform live. When it came time to play Zombie, she kind of turned to her bandmates, smiled and turned back to us and said, “It’s that time of the noight.” and I think a full shiver went up my spine at that particular moment. By the encores, Dolores had taken off the leg brace altogether. I imagined her backstage saying, “Fook it. It’s jyst in the whey anywhey.”
When I see a concert I really like, (I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire 2010 amd Coldplay 2012!) I often will make a playlist of the concert order so I can relive it in my own way, even if I am just using album versions of the songs. It’s a lot easier now to create playlists (and on my iPod I do have one called “Cranberries 96” which is this very concert), but in the 90s it was all done with CDs getting dubbed onto cassettes. Still, I made one, and probably played it just as much as I did the first two albums. It sort of became a supercut of the best off of those three albums, and I play it still. Most recently I stuck it on for a drive out to Brandon in November. When those opening beats of Forever Yellow Skies blasted out of the speakers, my wife gave me an approving nod.
The Cranberries went on to release a couple more albums after To the Faithful Departed, but they didn’t really resonate with me in the same way as those first three did. I still bought them. 1999’s Bury the Hatchet and 2001’s Wake up and Smell the Coffee. A greatest hits album followed that, and a “reimagining of their songs acoustically with an orchestra” album came next. I didn’t bother with either. The band disappeared from the public eye. I just found out today that about 10 years ago Dolores released a couple of solo albums. I don’t know how that wasn’t on my radar, but I had moved on, maybe.
I had always hoped for a reunion, and another tour. Maybe even a new album and a renaissance of sorts. I regret that my wife never saw them live, but then again, how could anything compare to what I remember from 1996?
We got news today that Dolores Mary O’Riordan of Limerick, Ireland died suddenly and unexpectedly in London. She was 46. She was the lead singer of a band called “The Cranberries” and enjoyed moderate international success in the mid 1990s. Cause of death: unknown.
That may be how newspapers will report the news tomorrow. For me, she was a wonderful singer, a clever songwriter, a broken, damaged soul who suffered from ridiculous thoughts but who was able to take those ridiculous thoughts and spin them into hauntingly beautiful songs that touched many lives. Many of whom may not have had the ability to express their feelings but felt a connection to her words and music.
And remember: every day is a victory of hope over despair, until it isn’t.
Rest peacefully, Dolores O’Riordan of Limerick.
“Outside my door, I’ll see you no more.” Forever Yellow Skies, The Cranberries