One of the most ubiquitous sounds of the ’90s was Dolores O’Riordan’s distinctive voice, dominating the airwaves with The Cranberries’ hit singles like Linger and Dreams. The band took a five year hiatus to work on solo material, but returned in 2009 for a well-received world tour.
Late in 2017, the band demoed 11 tracks for their next album and were all invigorated to continue developing the new material together. That wasn’t to be.
O’Riordan was found dead in a hotel just two weeks into the new year. Given that context, it’s both chilling and brave that the the opening lyric of the album that her bandmates created from the demo recordings is “Do you remember/remember the night/at a hotel in London.” The poignancy doesn’t let up as the refrain “it’s all over now” reverberates. It’s testament to O’Riordan’s talent that she could make a song about domestic violence sound so beautiful.
Perhaps more so than in the band’s heyday, where her idiosyncratic vocal stylings could be divisive, here O’Riordan showcases her use of her voice as an instrument. It’s astounding that these vocals were only demo takes. Here’s the promo video with textured, watercoloured animation:
O’Riordan’s Irish lilt comes through in Lost With You. The band plays sensitively around her musings, building towards the chorus as she lets loose.
Lyrically, the tracks dance around finality and enduring sadness: “it hasn’t killed you yet but you cannot let it go/trying to exist/trying not to scream.” Unafraid of confrontational imagery – “it’s eating you like cancer” – it’s hard not to dwell on thoughts of unfulfilled potential, both professionally and personally.
This is magnified by the sense of hope and overcoming in A Place I Know. There’s a naive simplicity in the lyric “just to be with you/is all I want to do” right after alluding to a painful past. Later on, Summer Song has a similar sense of child-like joy.
Catch Me If You Can is much more about the sound, with O’Riordan’s voice amplified by orchestral accompaniment. The lyrics give an overall sense of repetition. Only when you become attuned to deciphering the individual words does it become clear that the sombre mood is back with a vengeance: “only shoot to kill your pain/loosening the mortal chain.”
Got It is surely the standout single with a compelling pop vibe and singalong chorus. It’s bittersweet, though, as the lyrics are still downbeat: “thought that I got it then I lost it all.”
Illusion doesn’t make any pretense about being cheery : “it was something/when you took control of my soul/then it was nothing.” Crazy Heart continues that theme, though this time advocating recognising and leaving users: “whatever makes you feel good/whatever makes you feel alive/it doesn’t have to be the heartbreaker/the soul taker.”
The Pressure has the most idiosyncratic vocal performance, verging on Bjork-ish pronunciation at times.
The album is bookended by the strongest and most apt songs. In The End is a luscious reflective and revealing tune: “ain’t it strange when everything you wanted was nothing that you wanted in the end.” It speaks to a sobering realisation that fame and success weren’t what they were cracked up to be. The enduring memory of the final track, and the album as a whole, is the gorgeous, powerfully defiant refrain: “you can’t take the spirit.”
Like with the reverberating note at the end, there’s the lingering sense of untapped potential. O’Riordan’s vocals are incredible for demo takes, and the band has clearly worked hard to round them out to create a rich, full sound. Perhaps, with time, the lyrics would have been developed to express the complex themes in more nuanced ways, or new songs may have emerged. In the end, we’ll never know.
In The End is out now on BMG. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click the image below and make a purchase. Thank you!
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