Dolores O’Riordan gave the music world one of its most distinctive voices, and the legacy she created with Limerick alt.rock icons The Cranberries is an alluring body of work that will continue to attract new generations of fans. From their 31-year career together, we choose 20 of the best Cranberries songs that will linger on through the ages.
Appearing on the deluxe, 25th-anniversary of The Cranberries’ debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, “Íosa” features Dolores O’Riordan singing in Irish and represents the band’s only recording to be made in their native language. Revealing the influences of Catholicism and traditional church singing on the group, this haunting track’s title translates as ‘Jesus’ and was inspired by O’Riordan’s childhood, when she was a regular soloist at the liturgical events at her school, Laurel Hill in Limerick.
One of the key tracks from The Cranberries’ seventh album, Something Else, released in 2017, “Why” is a somber examination of loss, inspired by the death of O’Riordan’s father. Her voice trembles with emotion and the band play with brooding persistence, creating an otherworldly, elegiac quality.
The Cranberries went on hiatus in 2003, with the band members pursuing different projects, among which were two O’Riordan solo albums, Are You Listening? and No Baggage. The Limerick quartet reunited for 2012’s Roses, helmed by their longtime producer Stephen Street, who said that the album recaptured the “delicate, darker mood” of the band’s earlier work. Finding them on sparkling form, the yearning, nostalgic “Tomorrow” showcased the group at their spangly, melancholic best, instantly holding its own among the best Cranberries songs.
17: ‘Time Is Ticking Out’
It moved over a million copies, yet 2001’s Wake Up And Smell The Coffee remains relatively overlooked in The Cranberries’ wider body of work. One of its calling cards was “Time Is Ticking Out,” a slice of sleek, staccato alt-rock with choppy guitars and O’Riordan’s ecology-related lyric (“What about Chernobyl? What about radiation?”), which she delivered with a no-nonsense briskness.
Initially a gem of a B-side cut during the Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? sessions, “Liar” later came to prominence on the soundtrack album for the acclaimed 1995 teen movie Empire Records. The equal of anything on The Cranberries’ landmark debut album, ‘Liar’ features one of Dolores O’Riordan’s most captivating vocals. Its obsessive lyric (“I will run, I will fight/I will take you through the night”) is matched by the intensity of the band’s performance.
15: ‘Waltzing Back’
“Dreams” and “Linger” are widely regarded as the two best Cranberries songs on their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, but the record is stuffed with tracks that have stood the test of time. Another obvious highlight is the slow-burning “Waltzing Back,” in which Fergal Lawler’s martial drumming and Noel Hogan’s Echo And The Bunnymen-esque guitar figures provoke O’Riordan into summoning another truly high-quality vocal.
14: ‘I Will Always’
Perhaps the most underrated track on Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, “I Will Always” is a glorious, elegiac ballad framed by a sparse, melancholic rhythm section and Noel Hogan’s swaying, Johnny Marr-esque acoustic guitars. For a key track on a multi-million-selling album, the song remains surprisingly overlooked, but it’s an understated treat that more than earns its place among the best Cranberries songs.
With the possible exception of ‘Zombie’, “Promises” represents The Cranberries at their heaviest, and it remains one of the best songs on their fourth album, Bury The Hatchet. With its hard-edged staccato guitars, dramatic arrangement, and unforgiving, divorce-related lyrics, it seemed a strange choice for a single, but it was widely-acclaimed and effortlessly cracked the UK Top 20.
Blur/Morrissey producer Stephen Street oversaw The Cranberries’ first two albums, and the band reunited with him for their fifth album, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, in 2001. The album’s first single was “Analyse,” which found the band on commanding, anthemic form and Dolores O’Riordan reminding us she was still one of the most singular female vocalists in the business.
11: ‘Just My Imagination’
Bright, poppy, and irresistible, “Just My Imagination” was the third and final single lifted from The Cranberries’ fourth album, Bury The Hatchet. Featuring one of O’Riordan’s most optimistic lyrics (“I have always kept my faith in love/It’s the greatest thing from the man above”), it seemed to have all the attributes of a sure-fire smash hit, yet, inexplicably, it failed to chart.
10: ‘Animal Instinct’
The Cranberries took a well-earned break after To The Faithful Departed. Returning to the fray in 1999 with Bury The Hatchet, they played to their strengths and let their melodic instincts shine. O’Riordan also had her first child during the band’s hiatus and she explored motherhood and how it had changed her on ‘Animal Instinct’, an album highlight and also one of best Cranberries songs picked for a single.
9: ‘When You’re Gone’
Arguably the stand-out track from To The Faithful Departed, “When You’re Gone” was a yearning, bittersweet love song incorporating subtle soul and doo-wop influences, while its punchy, radio-friendly production significantly beefed up the group’s trademark jangly pop sound. The whole band make telling contributions to the song, while O’Riordan digs deep for one of her most show-stopping vocals.
8: ‘I Can’t Be With You’
Though only a minor hit, No Need To Argue’s final single, “I Can’t Be With You,” remains something of a lost classic. Built around chiming, cyclical chords, and sturdy rock rhythms, the song’s lyric is drenched in sorrow (“Lying in my bed again/And I cry ’cause you’re not here”). As devastating as break-up songs get.
7: ‘Yeats’ Grave’
Overall, The Cranberries’ second album, 1994’s No Need To Argue, was harsher and rockier than their debut. Though not as wracked and dense as the album’s most famous song, “Zombie.” the strident “Yeats” Grave’ also hits the spot. A vivid tribute to William Butler Yeats, the lyric refers to the legendary Irish poet’s fraught relationship with English-born Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne; O’Riordan reads from Yeats’ poem “No Second Troy” at the song’s mid-point.
6: ‘Free To Decide’
With their first two albums having sold in the multi-millions, The Cranberries were inevitably faced with the pressures of dealing with the mass media. The increasingly intrusive tabloid coverage galvanized Dolores O’Riordan to hit back with To The Faithful Departed’s “Free To Decide.” There’s more than a tinge of vitriol in the lyric (“You must have nothing more to do with your time/There’s a war in Russia and Sarajevo too,” she spits at one point), but it’s well-aimed, and the band ably support her with an especially steely performance.
The Cranberries joined forces with renowned Canadian hard rock producer Bruce Fairbairn (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi) for their third album, 1996’s To The Faithful Departed. While the album’s mainstream rock sound polarized critical opinion at the time, it was still a multi-million bestseller. The album also included several of the band’s most enduring tracks, including the urgent, anti-drug anthem “Salvation.”
4: ‘Ode To My Family’
No Need To Argue’s opening song, “Ode To My Family,” also cracked the UK Top 30. More redolent of the band’s signature jangle-pop sound, this wistful track was enhanced by a string arrangement composed by Dolores O’Riordan, and found her yearning for the simpler life she was familiar with (“Because we were raised to see life as fun and take it if we can”) during her childhood in Limerick.
Also from The Cranberries’ much-acclaimed 1993 debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, “Linger” was actually the first song O’Riordan and guitarist Noel Hogan wrote together and it provided the group with their first major international hit. Blessed with one of O’Riordan’s most luxurious vocals, this sensual pop song is further elevated by a swooning string arrangement overseen by Morrissey/Durutti Column alumnus John Metcalfe. It remains a thing of wonder.
Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? established The Cranberries as jangle-pop classicists of distinction. However, the Limerick quartet changed tack after its release and returned with “Zombie,” an intense protest song railing against the Northern Irish Troubles, written in memory of Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry, two young boys killed in an IRA bomb attack in Warrington during 1993. Fans may have been surprised by the distorted guitars, but the hard-hitting subject matter struck a chord universally, with “Zombie” granting The Cranberries their first US No.1.
Their first proper single and still arguably their signature song, “Dreams” gave The Cranberries their commercial breakthrough and has since become a staple of innumerable movie soundtracks. Described by producer Stephen Street as “a really good song with a real Gaelic twist”, “Dreams” sit at the top of our list of the best Cranberries songs and, to these ears, is as close to bliss as chiming guitar-pop gets. When Dolores O’Riordan sang “I want more, impossible to ignore”, the wider world could only agree.