Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? (Island ‘93) Rating: A
This is an utterly enchanting first album that this band never came close to topping. Though obviously owing a debt to 4AD, The Sundays, and The Smiths, this Irish band delivers their own beautifully lush backdrops for the stunning, much multi-tracked voice of Dolores O’Riordan. "I Still Do" instantly introduces the band's swirling, moody atmospherics, as well as lyrics ("I don't want to love you, but I still do") that outline the album's lovelorn themes. Then a galloping groove takes over on "Dreams," on which O'Riordan's sexy, sorrowful vocals are simply amazing. Containing jangly guitars and whispered vocals, the song builds and builds until its brilliant climax, which gets me in the gut every time. "Sunday" is one of only a few songs, along with "Wanted," "Still Can't...," and “How,” where the band ups the tempo, and each is surprisingly effective, but only the dramatic "Not Sorry" really interrupts the albums mellow overall mood, and then only briefly. Oh, "Waltzing Back" is another moody, dramatic track on which O'Riordan sings with great intensity, with her thick Irish accent coming to the fore along with a militant beat, but most of the other songs provide perfect soundtracks for sleep. I mean that in a good way, as the best of the rest of these songs are musically soothing and deeply satisfying. For example, "Linger," the albums big hit single, is simply spectacular, albeit in a low-key way, led by its lush string arrangements and a vocal performance that's so sad and beautiful that I can only marvel at its perfection (despite its lame "linger/finger" lyric rhyme). "I Will Always" is another lovely lullaby-like showcase that contains yet another superbly sorrowful vocal - it should also be noted that her bandmates' understated but impressive playing could hardly provide better accompaniment - while "Put Me Down" is another gorgeous track on which the band's Celtic overtones are ever-present (the dreamy strings return, too). Sure, the album starts to seem like more of the same after awhile, and when O'Riordan rants "you said you never would leave me alone" on "How" you may be tempted to yell "stop your whining already!". These are very minor complaints, however, for the truth is I've been in love with this album since soon after it was released, and though it was a surprising multi-platinum success back then it can now rightfully be regarded as an unjustly overlooked gem.
No Need To Argue (Island ‘94) Rating: B+
The Cranberries’ debut album was an absolute delight that featured lush melodies alongside the matchless voice of Dolores O’Riordan. Though several songs here capture the swirling beauty of the first album, I found this follow up slightly disappointing by comparison, as several songs fail to provide the catchy sparks that made their previous album linger in my mind. Beautiful as O’Riordan’s voice is, with no melody to propel them some of these songs, particularly on the albums less successful second half, become boring. In addition, the album is oh-so-serious, and I found myself wearying of all the preachy ("how can you hurt a child? Does this make you satisfied?") and pretentious ("Yeats Grave" being the biggest offender on that front) melodramas, not to mention O’Riordan’s increasingly annoying vocal affectations. Yes, their first album was also humorless, but it had the benefit of better melodies, a more humble lyrical approach, and of having been there first. Thankfully, there are still quite a few first-rate songs here, most of which are frontloaded at the beginning of the album. “Ode To My Family” is notable for its "doo doo doo doo" vocal hook, chiming guitars, and lovely multi-tracked vocals, while “I Can’t Be With You” is a fast and catchy rock tune that's enjoyable despite some of those aforementioned affectations. “Twenty One” is a beautifully understated song on which O' Riordan duets with herself, while “Ridiculous Thoughts” is one of the band's most memorable rockers, especially when it surges to its furious finish. Other songs also have their moments, such as the airy "na na na" vocals on "The Icicle Melts" and "Daffodil Lament," respectively, as well as the similarly wordless "da ha's" (??) on “Disappointment” - who needs lyrics with a voice like that, anyway? However, as the second side winds down it becomes apparent that this oh-so-sad album adds up to less than the sum of its often-impressive parts. For example, the album's signature song, "Zombie,” is an explosive hard rock song that worked extremely well as a single (pompous though it may be, the Smashing Pumpkins-esque power of its music is difficult to deny) yet seems out of place on the album. Granted, it’s admirable that The Cranberries are branching out and expanding their sound, but I would have liked to have seen more consistent reminders of what made the majority of their first album so magical.
To The Faithful Departed (Island ‘96) Rating: C+
This album starts strong - “Hollywood” is a raging “Zombie"-esque explosion (albeit not quite as good), and “Salvation” has a snappy melody and a catchy chorus - but quickly loses steam. Even though “Salvation” is one of the album’s better songs, it also documents the album’s primary weakness: the band’s music is often compelling and O’Riordan still has a beautiful voice, but lyrically the album is laughably weak and overbearing. For example, on the anti-drug “Salvation,” O’Riordan suggests that sleepless parents “tie your kids home to your beds, clean their heads” (warning: do not try this at home!), while the otherwise gorgeous “When You’re Gone” is marred by cringe inducing lines like “I feel I’m sinking without you, and to my mind everything’s stinking without you.” Elsewhere, “Free To Decide” is an effective pro-choice rant, but “War Child” is preachy and clichéd (“at times of war, we’re all the losers, there’s no victory” - you don't say, Dolores!), while “I Just Shot John Lennon” is embarrassingly bad, predictably ending with gunshot fire. There is a depressing sense of loss and longing throughout the album, and the band further expands their sound by integrating horns and even attempting a dancehall ditty (“Will You Remember”). Still, though I believe the band has admirable intentions and possesses undeniable talent, an abundance of overly obvious political sermons and weepy personal stories ultimately conspire to make To The Faithful Departed a drag.
Bury The Hatchet (Island ‘99) Rating: B+
After To The Faithful Departed I was tempted to give up on the band. After all, it's frustrating when a band that's so good at a particular style (in this case lush, dreamy ballads about relationships) strays from what they do best. But then I remembered their first album and the fact that they provided the lone highlight of my Woodstock '94 experience, and I decided to give them another chance. I'm glad I did, because this is their most consistent set of songs since their first album. "Animal Instinct" and "Loud and Clear" immediately announce a return to ear pleasing melodies, and even though "Promises" rocks hard it's still a strong, moody effort. Even better is "You and Me," a pretty pledge of devotion, and "Just My Imagination," a gorgeous song that's one of the band's best. "Shattered" isn't one of my favorites since it reminds me too much of the dreary mood that so turned me off on the last album, and I can likewise live without the hard rocking "Desperate Andy." Fortunately, "Saving Grace," a dreamy love song to her little child, is a major rebound, but "Copycat," despite it's brisk beat and attractive Cure-like guitar parts (one of several such on the album), is undone by it's annoyingly repetitive lyrics about copycat bands, an odd subject given that The Cranberries aren't exactly the most original band in the world. "What's On My Mind" returns the band to the dreamy style they do best, but "Delilah" could accurately be called "orchestral hard rock." It's surprisingly successful, as is the moody and intense "Fee Fi Fo," before "Dying In The Sun" ends the album with Dolores and a lone piano singing in her best little girl voice. As can be gathered from the song descriptions above, this album is far from perfect, but it was good to see a band that I've long had a soft spot for again prove that my faith was not unfounded. Unfortunately, a changing market now more into teen pop and nu metal, plus no obvious hit singles and a cool but spectacularly inappropriate Storm Thorgerson album cover (which suggests Pink Floyd or perhaps the Alan Parsons Project far more than The Cranberries) doomed the album to be a commercial disappointment.
Wake Up And Smell The Coffee (Island ‘01) Rating: B
With Stephen Street back as producer (he produced their first two albums) and O'Riordan happily married, this is a focused, surprisingly upbeat swan song (for now, anyway). The album is extremely, almost disappointingly consistent, with few major peaks but even fewer regrettable valleys. O'Riordan's overly earnest lyrics can still make me wince ("this is like deja vu, I was born to be with you"), and I don't appreciate being chastised on "Analyze" or the overly obvious political messages of "Time Is Ticking Out." Still, musically speaking those are good songs, even if "Analyze" is an obvious rewrite of the even better "Dreams," much like how "This Is The Day" is all too reminiscent of "Zombie." The title track, the album's lone other rocker, is much better, being powerfully moody and rocking, while poppy vocal hooks hook me in on "Time Is Ticking Out" and "Every Morning." I can certainly live without the electronic elements and hop-hop beat of "Concept," and "Dying Inside" is way too repetitive and one-note for its own good, but "Never Grow Old" and "Pretty Eyes" are dreamy lullabies in the band's best style, and the keyboard hook of "Do You Know" and singable chorus of "Carry On" are also enjoyable. Lyrically, O'Riordan has rarely sounded so content, even if she's still somewhat insecure (witness "I Really Hope"), while musically the bass/drums seem higher up in the mix than usual. Anyway, this is a consistently good album, certainly below the debut but almost as good as No Need To Argue and Bury The Hatchet, and certainly better than To The Faithful Departed, still the ugly duckling of the bunch. Much like the album itself, "Chocolate Brown" provides an unremarkable yet nice low-key ending to an underrated career. Update: In 2012 the re-formed band released their sixth album Roses, though I haven’t heard anything from it yet.