The soundtrack of my teens…
It seems this is a common reaction to news of the premature passing of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of Irish band The Cranberries. Dolores was only 46-years-old and is survived by her ex-husband and three children. Not to mention the legacy of her stunning voice and poignant lyrics.
This reaction mimics mine completely. The Cranberries came into my life at a time when things were very confusing and often troubling – my teens. Trying to figure myself out and my place in the world (an ongoing battle).
When I first heard Dolores’ distinctive vocals, it instantly got my attention. I wanted to hear more. My first taste of what was to come was the track Dreams, released in 1993 from their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Melodic rock, matched perfectly with warbling and haunting vocals. Without the benefit of online streaming in those days, it meant heading to the music store to seek out more. I found their album and did something I didn’t do all that often in those days – I bought the album instead of just the single. Something told me this was different. It sure was – all 12 tracks on the album did what only truly great music does – it took me on a journey of emotions through very relatable experiences, even at the tender age of 14 at the time. The Cranberries‘ music absolutely moved me, as cliched as that might sound.
The follow-up album, No Need To Argue, released one year later in 1994, took this so much further. 14 songs that truly helped me through some very emotional times, both then, and even to this very day. It wasn’t uncommon for me to choke back tears while listening to No Need To Argue and I also find myself doing the same today as I give these albums another spin. Partly for the sadness of losing a gifted musician far too soon, but also partly a reminder of everything this music helped me with. Truly the soundtrack of my teens and a constant refuge in other times of need since.
In memoriam, I thought I would compile a list of The Cranberries tracks that had the most impact on me:
#20 Twenty One (No Need To Argue, 1994) – a soothing, soulful track that ends with Dolores’ signature vocals. Always a favourite to sing along to when no one was around.
#19 Not Sorry (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – an exercise in defiance, something that has always been a personal struggle. Not apologising for walking away from a deceitful person is something we could all benefit from.
#18 Still Can’t… (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – an upbeat track that hides a more sinister narrative. “Still can’t recognise the way I feel, nothing you said to me was real”. Sadly an occurrence that still happens.
#17 When You’re Gone (To The Faithful Departed, 1996) – naturally, a death-themed album was never going to be easy listening. While this album did not hold up to the incredibly lofty expectations set from the first two, some tracks still had profound effects, such as this one. “I’ll miss you when you’re gone, and it’s time to carry on”. An appropriate song to remember those that have left us.
#16 Ode To My Family (No Need To Argue, 1994) – the opening track of the album that packed a vocal punch. I never could quite understand if this was a tribute to family, or the opposite. “Do you see me? Does anyone care?” contrasted with “My mother, my mother, she’d hold me, when I was out there”. Probably a very accurate reflection of family issues while growing up and trying to find your place.
#15 I Will Always (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – another soothing, soulful track that tells of devotion and letting go. “I will always go beside you”.
#14 Zombie (No Need To Argue, 1994) – I’m possibly being really unfair putting this here. Zombie was the song that put The Cranberries on the global scale and contains incredibly poignant, and sadly still too real lyrics. Music has long been used to voice opposition, political or otherwise. This is no exception and while I thoroughly love this song, all the songs below had more of an impact on me, but I do wonder if the message of this song will still be so relevant in another 24 years?
#13 Put Me Down (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – as someone that has always struggled with compliments and confidence, this song was so raw. A haunting chorus complementing relatable lyrics. A very powerful way to end an album.
#12 I Can’t Be With You (No Need To Argue, 1994) – “It’s bad and it’s sad, because I can’t be with you”. For all of the crushes and ones that got away, intentional or not, this continues to resonate.
#11 Pretty (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – how two minutes and 16 seconds of music can sum up so many emotions. “You’re so pretty the way you are, and you have no reason to be so insolent to me”.
#10 Salvation (To The Faithful Departed, 1996) – probably one of The Cranberries‘ most “upbeat” songs, although it details the ongoing scourge of drug addiction. “To all the kids with heroin lines, don’t do it, it’s not what it seems”. From an album about death, it has always been a standout.
#9 The Icicle Melts (No Need To Argue, 1994) – hidden in the middle of the album is this stunning example of Dolores’ powerful vocals, mixed with tragically relevant lyrics of conflict and war. “There’s a place for the baby that died, and there’s a time for the mother who cried. She will hold him in her arms sometime, cos nine months is too long…”
#8 Linger (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – strings beautifully composed in the background with lyrics to match: “I’m in so deep. You know I’m such a fool for you. You got me wrapped around your finger, do you have to let it linger?” I can’t say the number of times I’ve leaned on this one.
#7 How (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – Dolores’ distinctive warble is all over this one, as is the usual meaningful words: “How? You said you’d never leave me alone”. Plenty of great bass guitar in this track just rounds out its edginess.
#6 Dreaming My Dreams (No Need To Argue, 1994) – an acoustic masterwork that has brought tears to my eyes countless times, including today as I listen with a heavy heart. “I’ll be dreaming my dreams with you. And there is no other place, that I’d lay down my face, I’ll be dreaming my dreams with you” – a lyric I’ve always wanted to sing to someone one day.
#5 Empty (No Need To Argue, 1994) – another masterwork accompanied by an utterly moving piano and string melody. This track always seemed to annoy my dad the most, where he’d always threaten to snap the CD if I didn’t turn it off (thankfully can’t do that with online streaming these days). I think this is possibly the best example of the power of Dolores’ voice, and as polarising as it may be, this song surely left me feeling empty after every listen. “My identity, has it been taken? Is my heart breaking? On me, oh my plans, fell through my hands. On me, all my dreams, it suddenly seems…empty”.
#4 No Need To Argue (No Need To Argue, 1994) – the title track and deservedly so. A resounding organ introduces the song, and continues throughout. “I knew, I’d lose you. You’ll always be, special to me. And I remember all the things we once shared, watching TV movies on the living room arm chair. But they say it’ll work out fine, was it all a waste of time? Cos I knew, I knew, I’d lose you. You’ll always be, special to me”. Indeed, a very special song.
#3 Ridiculous Thoughts (No Need To Argue, 1994) – “you’re going to have to hold on! Hold on! Hold on to me!” The bellowing brings further power to the line “I cried so hard, the ridiculous thoughts, oh”. Nothing like a constantly anxious mind to over-analyse every situation, over and over again to wear you out. This track seems to embody that perfectly.
#2 Daffodil Lament (No Need To Argue, 1994) – possibly a favourite for most fans of The Cranberries, and with every possible reason. It’s one of those rare, six-minute epic journeys that so few songs manage to transcend. It’s almost three songs in one – we start with a melodic relaxation, then Dolores kicks into overdrive with solid and dramatic music – “I can’t sleep, HERE!” It returns to a quiet intermission, flips into a more positive note – “…and the daffodils look lovely today, look lovely, look lovely”. And then one last haunting chant to round it out, complete with Dolores’ distinctive tones.
#1 Dreams (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – the song that started it all for me, and continues to be my standout. “Oh, my life, is changing every day. In every possible way. Oh, my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems. I know I’ve felt like this before, but now I’m feeling it even more, because it came from you”. Love, letting love in, being able to accept yourself, following dreams – it’s all in here and I knew from the first listen this would be a song I’d listen to for years. 25 years on, it still reminds me to dream my dreams and make them a reality. “You’re a dream to me”.
While speculation is unfortunately focussing on Dolores’ mental health battle over the last four or so years, the current information from London police is that nothing suspicious was found and the case has been referred to the coroner to determine the cause of death. I won’t add to the speculation, but I can only pass on my sincerest condolences to all of Dolores’ nearest and dearest. To Dolores herself, I can only feel eternally thankful to have had the privilege to listen to her music and know that it will live on with me, and millions of others, for a long time to come.
Vale Dolores O’Riordan. The daffodils don’t look so lovely today…