More and more it feels like the lyrics uttered by our 90’s alternative rock heroes have an authentic angst about them that no other culture of rock had, and it has tragically become even more real with Dolores O’Riordan’s death. There were many dark and turbulent days in the 90’s Grunge era, and The Cranberries fit right into the alternative scene at the time. The darkness of The Cranberries’ debut Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Don’t We? spilled withered and rotting relationships out of buckets full of tears onto an icy dream pop landscape. The cozy sonic atmospheres of the melodies feel like warm blankets surrounded by igloos of the coldness of love broken.
Dolores O’Riordan’s lyrics always felt like she opened up her diary sitting on the bedroom nightstand and began reading her deepest, darkest thoughts about her latest loves to us. In fact, she used music as catharsis so much, only “Sunday” and “Pretty” come through as songs that don’t describe her broken heart on their debut.
The Cranberries – Linger
The sad and bittersweet tone continued on their 2nd successful album No Need to Argue. While the soul-releasing “Zombie” became their biggest monster hit and best political stab, the rest of the album was once again dominated by relationships and the stress they caused. The title track, other singles like “Ridiculous Thoughts” and “I Can’t Be with You”, “Disappointment”, “Empty” and “Daffodil Lament” all dive deep into disenchantment over lost love.
Of course O’Riordan’s vocals were the heart of the band and she conveyed her frayed heart so well. Each song was touched by one of the most distinctive voices in alternative rock history and those diary pages came up off the paper and into real life. She was so convincing whether it was her softer, bittersweet vocals on the debut or her sweetness mixed with more sour tones and vocal ad-libbing on No Need to Argue. While these albums were incredibly insular, Dolores was able to project them universally so we all would feel and relate to the issues.
The Cranberries – I Can’t Be with You
The pain of The Cranberries seemed to dissipate some by their 3rd album To the Faithful Departed, an album that used “Zombie” as its template. With the guitar volume up, the aggression and tempos more furious, and the subject matter widening into different political dilemmas and life themes, O’Riordan was now taking on the world’s atrocities as her love life was solidified by marriage to her husband Don Burton. The hit singles; the anti-drug “Salvation” and the anti-suicide “Free to Decide” were built to be world messages for youth to follow while the heart-crushing “War Child” and beautiful political epic “Bosnia”, challenged us to look outside ourselves for a change.
The Cranberries – Salvation
Between marriage and criticisms of her political lyricism, The Cranberries never were quite as dark later in their career, but the Grunge era lyrics remain a major part of their legacy. 1999’s Bury the Hatchet and 2001’s Wake Up and Smell the Coffee had a mix of lyrics ranging from happier relationships, remembering the good ol’ days, and general songs about fighting through pain and enjoying life on your own terms. Roses, their 2012 comeback album did bring some of the misery from 20 years earlier, with a blend of uncertainty and relationship instability.
Looking back now that our singer we knew and loved is really gone so soon, much like Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and Scott Weiland in recent memory, we can look back and see her greatness but also her sadness from a different perspective. The Cranberries’ shoegazing was always married to great music and tremendous vocalizing by Dolores O’Riordan, and while personal troubles did follow her from time to time, her doubts and fears about life only helped heal ours through a musical therapy that made disenchantment enchanting.