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"Understand the things I say, don't turn away from me"

Class D

Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Folk Rock, Punk/Grunge
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
Also active in: --------



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The Cranberries aren't gods of modern music, but they're sure good. They aren't too welcome in "elitist" circles, since they had the unluck to be commercially successful - I wanted to add "and weren't particularly groundbreaking", but then fortunately remembered that you really don't have to be groundbreaking to be welcome in the indie world, all you have to do is to sell ten copies of your debut album instead of ten thousand. But don't let that bother you. If it's artistic integrity you're looking for, they got it.

Ireland has graced us with lots of important artists, presenting their native Irish take on everything, from hard rock (Thin Lizzy) to post-punk (U2) to, well, Irish music (Clannad). Then there always was somebody like Sinead O'Connor to remind us what a Strong Irish Female Artist is. In the light of this, there didn't seem to be much to be left to such relative "newcomers" as the Cranberries. It should be counted as a double achievement, then, that they still managed to break the circle and guarantee themselves a secure place in the pantheon of the Nineties. And while they never really managed to top their initial series of successes and pretty much lost the critical goodwill just as easily as they had gained it, well, in the modern world you're lucky to be able to release one classic album, let alone two - and speaking of the Cranberries, you do need at least two (Everybody Else and... uhh, a best-of compilation? Yeah, that'd be it).

The simplest and at the same time most accurate thing to be said of this band is that they're just great melodists. Presumably many of the glories reside with the band's guitarist, Noel Hogan, a skilful and versatile fellow with a known affection for Johnny Marr's style, but I'm assuming that the vocal melodies - the band's greatest asset - still mainly come courtesy of vocalist Dolores O'Riordan. Anyway, as the Cranberries themselves would say, there's "no need to argue": the important thing is, there are at least two gifted somgwriters in the band, and that's always better than one. My favourite word "catchy" can be applied to a great deal of their stuff with ease, but perhaps "catchy" isn't the best description here - the Cranberries' hooks are always soulful and sensitive, and absolutely not recommended for jaded cynical post-modernism-grounded minds. Hogan and O'Riordan take their stuff seriously, and if you can't do likewise, then stick with your Ween records, you mofo!

Well... too seriously, at times. Boognish played a cruel joke with the band on To The Faithful Departed. But first, let me just tell you what the Cranberries - at their best - sound like. Take a small pinch traditional Irish music, like Clannad. Now take a big, big lot of Eighties' Britpop like the Smiths and an even bigger, bigger lot of the Lilith Fair (Suzanne Vega etc.). Throw in a guitarist who really knows his stuff and doesn't just stand there playing background muzak for the singerine - instead, he plays lotsa complex acoustic and soft electric lines, interacting with the girl rather than accompanying her. And, of course, a vocalist who really uses her voice as a powerful and extremely complicated musical instrument. Keep in mind that the results are rather monotonous (they don't often dabble with different kinds of instrumentation or "alien" musical genres), but that doesn't mean they only know one mood or one tempo, and besides, if you're a Pet Sounds-like type of guy, that won't be a problem.

Granted, that's what the Cranberries sound like at their best. Like every talented band that's been tempted by the acute desire to achieve mainstream success, over the years they have become seriously contaminated by the modern production/playing disease. And in the case of the Cranberries, this contamination has been rendered even worse by O'Riordan's acute desire to act as a spokeswoman for her generation, picking up where Sinead O'Connor has stalled. Alas, "gigantomania" has never really worked for this band. As long as they're singing about lost love and broken/straining relationships, they're at the top of their game; but every once in a while they emerge with a social comment so lamely phrased and trivial that I'm starting to wonder just how much I have underrated Midnight Oil as the quintessential Rock Politicians of their time.

Worse, when you do a "bold" political/social statement, you usually do it loud, and for the Cranberries making loud statements pretty much equals merging with the faceless post-grunge crowds, streamlining their not-too-original, but subtle-and-emotive music into the faceless receptacle of the MTV spectacle, if you'll pardon my rhyming. They first did it with the successful and clever single 'Zombie', and its success screwed them up so much they even left their original producer (Stephen Street) to work with - of all people - the producer of friggin' Aerosmith, Bruce Fairbairn. Which was pretty much the analogy of an exquisite, talented chef dropping his delicate Italian or French cuisine and finding a job at McDonalds so that his cooking could reach more people. Yeah right. Fortunately, the band eventually came to their senses, and their latest recordings began downplaying the generic heavy rock and preachiness themes and once again concentrating on what these guys do best.

I could, of course, use this occasion to bitch about the lack of "true vision" in our age and start wondering how, for instance, somebody like John Lennon, with a background even less sophisticated than that of the Cranberries, could make naive-but-grandiose political statements thirty years ago and get away with it and yet today new, young acts just keep falling flat on their faces, but on the other hand, that's just not fair to make such a serious generalization based on just a few examples like this one. The fact is that the Cranberries tried to "lead" and failed. Maybe it's because they were poor leaders, maybe it's because the time was just not right.

In their defense, they really did not care much about their critical reputation; in fact, it is usually noted that their most "favourable" period with the critics was before they started officially releasing records, based on live shows and demo tapes of their early songs, and that they undermined their critical reputation with their very first single, which was no great shakes and certainly did not justify the "new Beatles" tag that the press was already trying around their necks. Then again, it's debatable which one is better - going for the critics or skippin' em and going directly "for the people", as they did on their third album. In any case, there is no doubt that if they are going to be remembered for something, it will be that colossal multi-part "ode to the broken heart and its bearer" that is Everybody Else, an album which, in my humble opinion, truly belongs in everybody's collection.

Lineup: Dolores O'Riordan - vocals; Noel Hogan - guitars; Mike Hogan - bass; Fergal Lawler - drums.



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Romantic vocal hooks of vaguely Celtic origin don't get better than this.

Best song: none. They're all about equally good.

Track listing: 1) I Still Do; 2) Dreams; 3) Sunday; 4) Pretty; 5) Waltzing Back; 6) Not Sorry; 7) Linger; 8) Wanted; 9) Still Can't; 10) I Will Always; 11) How; 12) Put Me Down.

This album is... how should I put it... beautiful in a Pet Sounds-like sense of the word. Not because it's as beautiful as Pet Sounds, which it probably isn't if beauty can be measured with a circle and a ruler and an empty Coca-Cola can, but because it is just as self-consciously relying on creating a "proverbially beautiful" musical environment as Brian Wilson's masterpiece. In a very much Nineties way, of course - meaning you might probably want to stick around this thing for a minute before it woos you over.

Not that the Cranberries are breaking much new ground on here, of course. For all I know, this music might not be much more than the sum of its influences; but then again, at least there are multiple influences here. Celtic elements - which are to be expected from an Irish band, of course - aren't even the major focal point on this debut album; they are just as responsible for the overall sound as is the band's obvious nod to the whole "ethereal" 4AD scene: I can hear the Cocteau Twins in every second song, and O'Riordan's vocal exercises are very much reminiscent of Liz Frazer. Apart from that, there's a lot of traditional Beatlesque instrumentation; a bit of Eastern atmospherics; and now and then, a nod to the grunge scene in Noel Hogan's gloomy, threatening guitar noises. Oh, and everybody keeps comparing the band to the Smiths, too, which, I guess, is quite a legally acceptable kind of occupation as well.

And the songs blend well together into a prototypical "mood album" that as a result stands somewhere halfway in between 4AD and Adult Contemporary. Oh yeah, that's pretty usual when you're dealing with Irish bands: this is, after all, more or less what Clannad metamorphosed into, and then there are less successful and less talented followers like the Corrs (unless the Corrs started earlier... it's kinda hard to keep track with all the bands who operate on the "say it now and say it loud, I'm a Celt and I'm proud" principle, you know). What distinguishes the Cranberries is that at this point, they were extremely creative. If you're a fan of "mood albums", I say go for it! it took me a lot of listens to "get" the hook potential of all the songs because I tend to doze off when there's a lack of diversity, but I kind of got through it. I survived, and I can definitely say the songs on here are generally good.

Generally good in the sense that the MOOD of the album is really established through well-defined melodic ideas rather than just the general atmosphere. The songs aren't pretentious - lyrically, they're mostly just competent romantic ballads or slightly obscure psychological ruminations, and there are next to none of those "sweeps of grandeur" where the artist can compensate for lack of melody with jarring power chords or overwhelming blasts of orchestration. But all the songs are very carefully written, and after a while they really start growing on you and you actually start to discern these tiny little melodic ideas and all.

'I Still Do' isn't one of the better tunes - in my opinion, a rather weak candidate for the opener - but just spend some time appreciating O'Riordan's vocal harmonies in the background and you'll see they are actually constituting the song's central point. (They're gorgeous, by the way). 'Dreams' starts out as if they were ripping off the Police's 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da', but then becomes more of a U2 thing, driven by a fun little vocal melody and more of those bedazzling "la la la"s from the vocalist. And lo and behold, just as you were starting to think that 'Sunday' was finally going to be a predictably lethargic one-chord-per-minute drone, it picks up a lively rhythm and becomes really pretty, with little string "washes" duelling with the song's bassline and O'Riordan's 'you mystify me, you mystify me' as the song's central hook. Beauty plus structure - ain't that my personal ideal? Ain't that yours? Come now!

The real winning streak, though, begins with 'Pretty' - play that song real real loud in order to perceive its true power before reverting to quiet once and for all. 'You are so pretty the way you are' may not be a lyrical revelation, but O'Riordan certainly has that unperceivable mystique going for her - like a Liz Frazer actually stepping down from the clouds and addressing the listener straight to the face. Ah, sweet-voiced Irish ladies, now here's something to find true delight in. (This does not refer to Liz Fraser, of course, although I have no idea whether she's got any Irish blood in her. Probably doesn't have any veins left, they're all occupied with Elvish blood already). 'Waltzing Back' is the greatest Cocteau Twins song the Twins never wrote - it's easily O'Riordan's crowning moment of vocal glory on the whole album, where she can blow you away with that incredible yodelling modulation.

'Not Sorry' is the album's heaviest number, even if it starts out deceptibly - just an innocent-looking adult contemporary shuffle, before the chorus arrives and whisks you away to Grungeland with dinosauric guitar tones in the background as O'Riordan complains about being lied to. 'Linger' is just a perfect pop song, with inobtrusive orchestration carrying the melody and the catchiest chorus on the record. And so on... I mean, at this time the songs start getting way too repetitive for me to come up with new terms to describe them, so let me just state that the most melodically gorgeous song on the album is 'Put Me Down', which ends it on a note every bit as triumphant as 'I Still Do' was, uhm, obscure. But don't let that make you suppose that the non-mentioned songs are in any way inferior: this is one of the most consistent albums of the entire decade. (And I can easily state that without having to listen to any other record of the decade, because it's a hundred percent consistent - not a single song I'd want to omit). For every song, I can single out something that makes it endearing.

Perhaps the ultimate thing that seduced me about the album is the totally humble atmosphere. Sure, the band isn't revolutionizing pop music, but they know it and they aren't kidding anybody. There's no pomposity or overtly straightforward, blatant, over-the-top emotionality involved. It's an inobtrusive, quiet little bunch of songs; if somebody put it in the background at a party you probably wouldn't even notice it. It's a record that intrigues you, but does so in an implicit, unobservable kind of way. If you don't like it, you probably won't hate it; if you do like it, you stand a very high chance of falling in love with it. Heck, just look at the title for God's sake! How more humble can it get?

PS. If you're having a very very good day, push that overall rating of 12 up to a low 13 for me, please. That's definitely one of the possibilities. I really love these guys.



Year Of Release: 1994

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Discovering alternative rock isn't necessarily a benefit, you know.


Track listing: 1) Ode To My Family; 2) I Can't Be With You; 3) Twenty One; 4) Zombie; 5) Empty; 6) Everything I Said; 7) The Icicle Melts; 8) Disappointment; 9) Ridiculous Thoughts; 10) Dreaming My Dreams; 11) Yeats' Grave; 12) Daffodil Lament; 13) No Need To Argue.

Every golden-level classic debut album just has to be followed with something anti-climactic - I guess, so we could rest assured the artists who gave this to us are people made of flesh and blood and not living effigies of the Olympus pantheon. And No Need To Argue is nothing less than a decidedly 'human' album. There are traces and occasionally even big impressive blobs of the old magic scattered here and there, but the seams are showing this time around, and there's filler, too.

Filler! Aaargh! I mean, if anybody has to double- and triple- and quadruple-check their albums for filler, it should be the Cranberries. For God's sake, a band with this kind of image probably needs about thirty seconds in total to churn out a Trademark Cranberries Song (and I'm presuming that's what it took them to record stuff like 'Everything I Said'). But it takes work, inspiration, and God's touch to churn out a Trademark Cranberries Song Inseminated by Genius. Yes, several numbers on here are the Cranberries in form, but not the Cranberries in spirit, and let me tell you, when you're being "Cranberries in form", but not being "Cranberries in spirit" (mmm, yummy), you're simply being boring.

Another thing is, this is where the Cranberries took a good look at each other and said: "LET'S ROCK!". Is that a good thing? Depends. By saying it, they gave the green light to 'Zombie', still one of their most famous songs, still the one you've probably heard a million times on the radio, still the song I myself had etched into the back o' me head without realising it must have been them Cranberries. Good song? Good song. O'Riordan's vocal puzzle in the chorus is massive, and although the anti-war lyrics are a bit too straightforward (a common problem with the band from now on), the heavy atmosphere works nicely. I could whine and bitch about the world not really needing more Sinead O'Connor-style material, but even I realise that would be rather ridiculous.

But then on the other side, the fact that they are becoming somewhat more heavy rock-oriented in their approach definitely takes away from the old magic. In places (including 'Zombie'), they come close, dangerously close to sounding like a run-of-the-mill grunge/post-grunge/alternative-whatever outfit, with nothing but O'Riordan's vocal power to give them some badly needed identity. Noel Hogan's guitar playing is still delightful, but too often, gets sacrificed in favour of simple, uninteresting rhythms or even - shush! - stupid power chords (rarely, though). It's almost as if they were intentionally squeezing those ol' timey Celtic elements out to truly become doing it like everybody else.

Thus, a letdown. But do not despair! It wouldn't have been prudent to expect them to rise the plank higher anyway. Concentrate on the positive side instead, and there's still plenty to enjoy and to gush over on this album. For starters, let us all admit the humble gorgeousness of 'Ode To My Family'. Maybe it doesn't have an easily identifiable vocal hook like 'IN YOUR HEAD IN YOUR HEAD ZOMBIE ZOMBIE', but it has a magnificent vocal flow - all of it is a hook of sorts, as O'Riordan's sentimental, but definitely non-cheap delivery softly carries you through this gurgling brook of a sound. So pretty, so untrivial, with so much modulation, and at the same time so tightly structured, a marvelous, evocative performance. The light acoustic guitars and strings in the background don't really constitute a significant melody, but they're just being the soft riverbed to O'Riordan's swift current.

As for the more 'explicit' hooks, well, you only have to wait until 'I Can't Be With You' and its anthemic chorus come along. Or linger on and you'll arrive at 'Ridiculous Thoughts', whose 'you're gonna have to hold on, you're gonna have to hold on' Power Refrain is one of the most adrenaline-raising numbers in this band's catalog (actually, much more adrenaline-raising than 'Zombie' - why the heck didn't they make this track a single? At least it avoids sticking our noses into their realm of political banality). Softer, more gallant hooks? 'Empty': 'my identity... has it been taken?... is my heart breaking on me-e-e?' This is, without a doubt, not just catchy, but also achingly beautiful.

I'd also like to mention that, while the lyrics of 'The Icicle Melts' certainly fall into the "most abysmal cliches" category, it does not hurt the song one single bit: as a single, momentary expression of a formerly unsuspecting person's bewilderment at the possibility of killing children, it works better than anything else I'd heard (although, now that I think of it, I haven't heard that much on the subject - for some reason, only ELP's 'Daddy' comes to mind... uhh...). Dolores really sounds like a terrorized young mother on that one, making lines like 'I don't know what's happening to people today/When a child has been taken away' feel like they belong to somebody who has just witnessed something really brutal on the street. As much as I'd want to be cynical in this particular case, the song just doesn't manage to bring out the jaded cynic in me. And I presume that's a good thing.

Perhaps I'd rather prefer to be cynical when it comes to really failed "genre-broadening" excursions as the pretentious, bad-arthouse-reekin' 'Yeats' Grave', a song where silly unnecessary bubbling keyboards substitute the melody and whose message will only be clear to Yeats' connoisseurs anyway. I also have no good words to say about 'Twenty One', even if a lot of people seem to like that one: this soft, silky, hushy whisper from O'Riordan doesn't bring out the best in her, and if I want hushy whisper, I can always listen to Suzanne Vega instead. I can also complain about 'Daffodil Lament' not needing to be six minutes long, although I still admire how, in 1994, somebody can still take something as simple as the phrase "and the daffodils looked lovely today" and transform it into an emotional metaphor for paradise on earth, no less. But it takes forever to get to that moment, and I'm still on the fence about the ambitions of that track being justified.

In any case, NNTA is still consistent enough to be listenable all the way through, and your highlights may easily differ from mine. But quality control is decidedly down for this one, and, as usual, I'll probably have to blame it on the hypothesis that they put all their true-and-tested material on the debut and these particular songs were rushed. Or maybe the commercial success of the debut just went to their heads, and in that case you know the rest. Actually, an alternative explanation is that this one is just so much longer than Everybody Else. Take away one or two of the least satisfactory songs, and I daresay the effect will be immediate. Still a fine listen though.



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

This album certainly digests better after a jagged little pill. But it's not hopeless.

Best song: CORDELL

Track listing: 1) Hollywood; 2) Salvation; 3) When You're Gone; 4) Free To Decide; 5) War Child; 6) Forever Yellow Skies; 7) The Rebels; 8) Intermission; 9) I Just Shot John Lennon; 10) Electric Blue; 11) I'm Still Remembering; 12) Will You Remember; 13) Joe; 14) Cordell; 15) Bosnia.

Well, you've had it coming for a long time. The Cranberries are a rock band now. And since being a rock band in the mid-Nineties is nowhere near as cool as being an avant-jazz band, or a retro power pop band, or a folk-punk band, or a reggae meets Beijing opera artistic project from a long-lost second cousin of a temporary King Crimson bass player and a crazy DJ from the middle of Oklahoma, you can bet your ass their third album sucks it. Doesn't it?

Actually, it doesn't. It's not a bad record. It's absolutely, thoroughly, and unquestionably un-recommended for people who associate "post-grunge" with the likes of Alanis Morrisette or, God forbid, Avril Lavigne, because on the surface that's just what happens: ambitious, loud, crunchy music with a prophetic delivery from your typical Strong Thinking Female Artist. In fact, a single look at the tracklisting will be enough for some people to put the thing back on its shelf and never remember it again: 'Bosnia', 'War Child', and, worse of all, 'I Just Shot John Lennon' (can I play dumb here and remind these guys that it's pretentious to equal "just" with sixteen years?). If you're expecting another Everybody Else here, say goodbye to these guys. They wanna rock now. They wanna drive the audience KA-RAZEEEEEE! I can almost imagine O'Riordan stagediving at the crucial peak of 'Hollywood'...

Anyway, I was all set to dismiss the record as a banal sellout when, all of a sudden, I decided to count the number of good songs, just to see exactly how much material from here remains salvageable. And that was the biggest surprise: for an album that is utterly dispensable overall, it has a surprisingly big quota of well-written songs! And I do mean "well-written", not necessarily "well-recorded": after all, how can you really discuss production matters on an album where the formerly versatile and subtle guitarist sacrifices his merits in favour of simplistic heavy strumming? Not that there ain't any good guitar playing on the album, but you have to look for it; it never jumps out at you. But the songs, they're good. Often. Even when they're being preachy and straightforward.

I certainly wasn't happy about O'Riordan becoming the next O'Connor, but what the heck, if I couldn't stop that from happening, what's the use of whining about it? I might as well relax and simply enjoy her in her new emploi if it's done good. And on 'Hollywood', it's certainly done good. Despite the title, it is not an attack on the worldwide dumbification of cinema (and the Cranberries' ideological stance is way too simplistic anyway for them to launch an attack of this kind) - but it's just as powerful and venomous as if it were one. Essentially, this is a rewrite of 'Zombie' - same crunchy mid-tempo heavy riffage, same machine-gun-style vocal gymnastics, same kind of interrupted head-spinning vocal hooks, and, like most rewrites, it's a little less impressive, but still impressive enough to make me agree that they can do something creative within the oh-so-limited post-grunge aesthetics.

Also, unless you start paying attention to the lyrics of 'Salvation', it's a classy fast rocker (two-minute long - punk rules!) which Dolores totally makes her own - great vocal modulation every five seconds, together with a cute "brass-imitating" series of "uh-huh"s. Too bad they had to redo the same melody later into the album as the ugly 'I Just Shot John Lennon', replete with stupid gunshots at the end of the track. Not only are the vocal lines here bland and annoying rather than catchy and impressive, this whole "oh let's all be terrified about how the most terrible things in life are the most simple ones" schtick just doesn't work any more. It worked on 'The Icicle Melts', because the singing was so emotional, but here the singing is pro forma, and, fuck it, surely people - including gazillions of good and bad rock artists - have shed enough tears over John Lennon in the past sixteen years; we do not need the Cranberries, of all people, to make us stop and think "Hey! That John Lennon assassination, you know what? It really sucks! How come I haven't realized that before?"

But, like I said, the cheesy/boring moments on this album are often compensated with beauty. 'Cordell' is a beautiful lament, where their folksy roots show up better than on any other track, and the acute desperation in O'Riordan's voice seems real, not forced. The sad, melancholic waltzing tempo of 'When You're Gone' is a great change of atmosphere from the opening rocking punch, showing that they're still willing to be subtle and gentle when necessary. 'Forever Yellow Skies' gets us more head-spinning singing tricks - and further proves that as long as O'Riordan isn't tackling political matters in her songs, preferring to focus on the Cranberries' initial subjects of you-and-me relationship, she's well capable of transcending the limitations of the "alternative rock anthem" and making me forget that it's essentially all formula. Her singing on that track is definitely not formula, and neither is the pretty mandolin playing on 'Joe', yet another lament to a lost love (just how many of these does one girl need, if I may ask though?) which, for a brief moment, returns us to the "fields of golden hay" you could envision so well on Everybody Else.

In short, when you get to the bottom of it, this really is not the catastrophe it's sometimes proclaimed as - the truth is, it is very simple to destroy this album with one wave of your finger, merely by extracting obvious turds like 'I Just Shot John Lennon', or the elementary-school level 'War Child' ('at times of war, we're all the losers, there is no victory'), or the pompous multi-part 'Bosnia' suite which does indeed collapse under its own weight (even if little parts of it are gorgeous), and presenting them as the obvious signs of "the Cranberries pushing it too far down". But a more compassionate look will reveal lots of good things as well, and it really ain't fair to concentrate exclusively on the negative sides, obviously negative as they are. Certainly the real serious accusation in this case would be that the Cranberries are quickly losing their identity, merging with the faceless "post-alternative" crowds and downplaying the things that made their early records so good - but even this accusation wouldn't be fully justified, because, for one thing, few bands are capable of making songs like 'When You're Gone' or 'Cordell', and for another, the "simplification" of their musical approach still results in stuff like 'Salvation' - songs that could have been written by anybody, I guess, but still take time, work, inspiration, and performing talent to be produced.



Year Of Release: 1999

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

...and the politics as well, and make a real good record instead. Yeah, nice decision.


Track listing: 1) Animal Instinct; 2) Loud And Clear; 3) Promises; 4) You And Me; 5) Just My Imagination; 6) Shattered; 7) Desperate Andy; 8) Saving Grace; 9) Copycat; 10) What's On My Mind; 11) Delilah; 12) Fee Fi Fo; 13) Dying In The Sun; 14) Sorry Son.

Not so much a "comeback" as a "course correction", I'd say. Of course, after their critical suicide with 'I Just Shot John Lennon', it was too late to cry foul, but time will set everything straight, and let's hope time will forgive them for their political blunders and blow the dust off Bury The Hatchet instead - a confident and consistent record that's just one notch beyond Everybody Else in its being much less 'magical' in essence. But where Everybody Else is a 13 on a good day, Hatchet may as well be a twelve: once again Hogan and O'Riordan have managed to come up with a set of heart-melting songs, with the only complaint being "hey, everybody else is doing it" and the reasonable answer being .... ?

God but this band sure knows how to make themselves likeable. 'Animal Instinct' is just so nice and so gorgeous, quite contrary to its title - the way Dolores sings about falling prey to "animal instinct", you'd think gorillas in heat actually behave like Romeo and Juliet. Not that the song is in any way sacchariney, not at all. It just manages to be a totally seductive, lush pop-rocker with catchy choruses and a passionate, but restrained vocal delivery. You know what just might be the best thing about this type of vocalist? It's that when they're singing in a soft, gentle, "vulnerable" tone, deep down inside you know that they can come around on you and hit you with all their might from behind in a matter of milliseconds, and even if that never happens during the actual song, the very feel of it just makes the listening process twice as valuable.

If 'Animal Instinct' is one of the most instantly endearing songs this band ever wrote, then 'Loud And Clear' is simply a perfect pop song - nothing more, nothing less. And it shows that even if they are no longer able to summon the subtle magic of their debut, their ability to create terrific melodies out of nowhere has not diminished one iota. If you are left untouched by either the jovial background repeating of the last line of each verse or the magnificent Britpoppy brass hook in between verses, great pop music is not for you, and I will take it all, thank you very much. Come to think of it, this is practically their first attempt at writing something mildly merry and upbeat in a style like this, and I can only wonder why the heck didn't they choose this approach instead of 'Zombie'-fying their music when they wanted a change of image. Afraid of not breaking through commercially, eh?

But let's be fair - the third song on here, even if it's also 'Zombie'-fied, is also excellent. 'Promises' is all built upon a minimalistic grunge riff (there's some decent jangling in the verses as well, though), but it's no friggin' John Lennon necrologue; it's a relationship song, and you just know you can't fail with a rockin' tune about relationships, can you? You sure can't, because this is one massive vocal tour de force O'Riordan offers us here. Even the most generic grunge can be ecstatic when the singer actually chooses to sing instead of yell, let alone weave a complex, difficult-to-repeat vocal melody - and when this head-spinning series of 'whoah whoah's enters a glorious battle with Hogan's solo guitar, it's just a classic kind of culmination.

Three songs into the album, three different approaches, not a single misstep - with the Cranberries, this doesn't necessarily guarantee that the rest is going to live up to the first taste, and it's true, there are a few duffers later on, but overall, the level of consistency is still high. They don't rock out too much, having learnt their lesson; one other major attempt, the cat-fighting epic 'Delilah' is just sort of strange, because the way it starts with that mid-tempo distorted riff, you'd think they were going for a rip-it-up barroom approach a la 'Rocking All Over The World', but one bar into the song that riff is permanently muffled down with mushy synthesizers occupying the foreground. Not a "bad" song, but sort of a "misguided" one for sure. Social comment, likewise, is kept to a minimum, although you just can't stop O'Riordan on 'Fee Fi Fo', whose lyrical matter is just... gross. Actually, I'm not quite sure what it's about (paedophilia is my best guess), but the line 'how could you get satisfaction from the body of a child' gotta rank among this band's worst ever. Eeeeegh.

Granted, it's got some strong competition from 'move over, move over, there's a climax coming my way' ('Shattered' - too bad, because otherwise it's a pretty strong folk-rocker that comes close to recapturing some of the old enchantment). But let us not overexaggerate things - O'Riordan's lyrics were never the band's forte, and if you can bring yourself to ignore the lyrics of Brian Johnson, it's no big problem to forgive these things as well. Yes, sometimes they get arrogant. On 'Copycat', for instance, it might look like The Cranberries - of all people - are accusing everybody around them of being unoriginal ("everybody wears the same clothes now and everybody plays the game"), everybody, that is, except The Cranberries themselves ("I see my vision very clear, wouldn't want to be another clone"). This serves as a great pretext to trash the song - for some reason I seem to be the only person who likes it, and I still can't figure out why; the frantic acoustic strumming, the classy wah-wah lead part that weaves all around it, and O'Riordan's repetitive, but funny "copycat copycat copy copy copy copy yourself" scat-like chant are all top notch! As for the lyrics, well, at the very least you can't deny that they're essentially true, and as for using the first person, you'll have to ask Dolores in person to learn if she truly meant herself or if it was more of an abstraction.

What else is there? More beautiful autobiographic excerpts like 'Just My Imagination'; more straightforward gospel-like love anthems ('Saving Grace'); cute little acoustic "blues-pop" ditties like 'What's On My Mind'; and excellent indie-piano-balladry like 'Dying In The Sun'. All of these songs rank from good to great depending on the level of your affliction, and the only bad - and very much subjective - thing I can say is that all of them seem just a bit "toned down" in every respect when compared to their prime moment of glory. Hogan's guitars aren't quite as prominent, and O'Riordan's vocal gymnastics aren't quite as unbelievable, and the lyrics aren't quite as "unnoticeable". So they just can't top themselves. So big deal! They have come back to their senses, and as long as they can come up with more of these nifty melodies, they can copy copy copy copy everyone else for all I care.



Year Of Release: 2001

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

No biggies, but sort of a decent way to go out at any case.

Best song: undecided on that one.

Track listing: 1) Never Grow Old; 2) Analyse; 3) Time Is Ticking Out; 4) Dying Inside; 5) This Is The Day; 6) The Concept; 7) Wake Up And Smell The Coffee; 8) Pretty Eyes; 9) I Really Hope; 10) Every Morning; 11) Do You Know; 12) Carry On; 13) Chocolate Brown; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Salvation (live in Paris); 15) In The Ghetto.

Aaarrgh, once again ten, even fifteen, points, turn out to be not enough. Anyway, this is the hierarchy: this album is a few minor notches below Bury The Hatchet, but pretty much the equal of Nothing To Argue. Provided this is of any importance to you, of course. More significant would be my mentioning that this, the Cranberries' fifth and most probably last (due to O'Riordan's gradual alienation from the rest of the band) album, doesn't have any immediate classic songs like 'Linger' or 'Animal Instinct' - although it desperately tries to have a few, on which see below - but is nevertheless consistently listenable and enjoyable and certainly has just about the right amount of Dolores' traditional charm to endear itself to even the casual fan.

As with their previous effort, they're still willing to let Storm Thorgeson design the album sleeve (the guy sure has a recognizable style, doncha think?), but they're also resuscitating some of the old traditions, the most important of which is going back to Stephen Street for production work. Not that this really sounds anything like Everybody...; they have incorporated too many dance-pop and post-grunge influences to make a "total comeback", and sonically it's not that big a departure from Hatchet. There are differences, though. Some of the more jagged angles have been smoothed, and almost nothing on here is as heavy as 'Promises', for instance; and a couple of the songs do seem to aim for the earlier 'dream-pop' vibe, with Street peppering them with mesmerizing echoey effects and suchlike. Still, on the overall scale of things, nominating him as producer again was rather a symbolic move than a truly meaningful one.

The songwriting is still going good, but I'm sorry to say that this time around, repeated listens have not brought out anything truly eye-popping. The choice of the first track is very demonstrative in that respect: where in 1999 'Animal Instinct' kicked in the proceedings with a blast of energetic-moving hooks soaked in subtle whoo-hooing charm, in 2001 we start off much more slowly, in a relaxed fashion, with a pretty, but hardly outstanding ballad called 'Never Grow Old' - whose main attraction is a larger-than-sincere chorus going 'hope you never grow old' and a bridge going 'hope you'll stay forever young', of all things. Mmm, not too imaginative/atmospheric, and I don't just mean the lyrics. Nice and pretty and touching and... cute. No magic. In fact, it's a pretty ordinary folksy ditty, the likes of which you're very likely to hear from any respectable second-hand traditional Anglo-Saxon/Celtic folk band.

The second track, 'Analyse', is one of those attempts to recapture the early magic I've mentioned: in places, it is almost directly a re-write of 'Dreams' (they even recycle the main jangly guitar hook), but no matter how catchy it is, it just can't compare to the gorgeousness of its forefather. The worst thing about it are the ridiculous bubbling synths - what is this, an attempt to "modernize" the sound in some way? Stealthily move them into the electronic age? Or, on the contrary, give the trance and rave kids a chance to suck in some real music? Doesn't work. Not to mention that as reviewer and analyzer, I take personal offense at lyrics like 'Don't analyse, don't analyse/Don't go that way, don't live that way/That would paralyze your evolution'. Gee, that hurt. But if it really is sort of an anti-critical rant on the part of Ms O'Riordan, I'd like to throw in the funny fact that my attempts at analysis actually catalysed my 'evolution' instead of 'paralyzing' it. In a way. Oh, well, never mind, I'm generous, I'm not gonna hold it against them. It's a good song. We just don't really need to listen to the lyrics. This is an excerpt from the most (actually, luckily, the only) politically-charged tune on the album, 'Time Is Ticking Out': 'Looks like we've screwed the ozone layer/I wonder if the politicians care?'. Not to be rude or anything, Dolores, everybody and their grandmother have already asked that same question. There must be something more interesting than that on your mind, right?

Hard rock influences are mostly condensed in two songs on here. 'This Is The Day' is a 'Ridiculous Thoughts'-like lil' monster with a catchy repetitive hook ('faith will save you...!') in the chorus - I really like how they get the thunderous 'whazoooo!' guitar chord in between the first and second verse so as not to let the chorus appear too quickly, but other than that it's not very interesting. Much more intriguing is the title track with its lengthy quietr introduction and untrivial "broken" rhythm; for some weird reason, the quasi-baroque attitude in O'Riordan's vocal melody reminds me of the Seventies' prog band Curved Air and Sonja Kristina's powerful sexy cooing - never mind, never mind - but the strange chorus is anything but baroque, and while it may take some time before you fall under the song's charm, creatively it's probably the album's highest point. Weird, considering that the title actually reflects O'Riordan's "conservative" stance on life - by 2001, she was all but close to returning to traditional family values, at least that's what my information sources tell me.

Softer songs include such pretty trifles as the innocent shuffle 'Every Morning' (terrific little slide guitar embellishments in between verses), the tastefully sentimental ballad 'Carry On' ('we'll have a glass of wine', Dolores sings, offbeat shyly adding '...or a cigarette' in pretty much the same way Lennon would ad lib 'in' to 'count me out' in 'Revolution' - guess it's pretty doggone hard to profess your love for the Devil's weed these days, eh? Especially being anti-drug and all that), and the romantic harpsichord-decorated 'The Concept' (more stupid lyrics - 'hold on to the concept of love?' - but beautiful hushed vocals and an unusual emphasis on the keyboards more than compensate).

Still, it's a bit odd that this album, from what I've seen, seems to have garnered higher praise than its predecessor - Bury The Hatchet had almost all of these good things and a little more. Maybe it's just that the critics allowed them a certain 'rehabilitation' period after the Great Political Disaster Of 1996 or something. As a swan song, it's not very satisfying. But then again, who knows, maybe they'll still get together to do another one. After all, it's not like politicians are in a hurry to repair the ozone layer, are they?

PS. My edition comes with two bonus tracks - a highly charged live version of 'Salvation' (never was a huge fan of the song, but the performance kicks so much ass it's a pity they never got around to making a complete live album) and OH HORROR THE CRANBERRIES COVERING "IN THE GHETTO". Well, after all, the social message of the song is right up their alley. I guess. I just hate the song too much to admit that they do a really great version of it.


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