The world was shocked, saddened, and caught off-guard by the sudden death of Dolores O’Riordan, on January 15, 2018. As lead singer of The Cranberries, the iconic County Limerick-born vocalist was an adventurous and truly singular talent fronting a band who weren’t just one of the great alt-rock acts of the 90s, but an outfit for whom longevity has long been guaranteed.
That O’Riordan’s untimely death robbed the music world of one its most distinctive voices is undeniable, but the extensive body of work she and her bandmates bequeathed will proudly live on. On their own, the statistics (which inform us that The Cranberries’ seven studio albums have collectively sold over 40 million copies) demand respect, but it’s the rich, bold and diverse content of these seven discs that continues to beguile fans old and new.
The group achieved stratospheric success, but in time-honored rock’n’roll tradition, The Cranberries came from the humblest of beginnings. Formed by guitarist Mike Hogan, his bassist brother Noel and drummer Fergal Lawlor, in their native Limerick, during 1989, the classic Cranberries line-up only fell into place when budding vocalist/lyricist Dolores O’Riordan was recruited a year later.
Their initial dues-paying done on the UK and Irish indie circuits, the band’s first break came when Rough Trade label boss Geoff Travis took over their management. With help from Travis and further endorsement from key industry figures such as BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel and 2FM’s Dave Fanning, in Dublin, The Cranberries signed to Island and cut their much-acclaimed debut album, 1993’s Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?.
The question posed by the album’s title seemed moot at a time when grunge and alt-rock was on the rise, but the quality of The Cranberries’ debut soon set them apart from the pack. The fiery Celtic soul inherent in O’Riordan’s dextrous vocal delivery ensured that she garnered the lion’s share of the plaudits, but the whole band weighed in with consummate performances, and while the record’s breakthrough hits “Dreams” and the melancholic break-up song “Linger” have since defined Everybody Else…, its tracklist also concealed treasures such as “Pretty” and the gorgeous, chiming “Waltzing Back.”
Initially a slow-burner, Everybody’s Doing It… caught light after the transatlantic success of “Dreams” and “Linger,” eventually going quintuple-Platinum in the US alone. It barely prepared the band for the runaway success of their second LP, however, the Stephen Street-produced No Need To Argue, which moved 17 million copies worldwide.
Though spawning four UK Top 40 hits, No Need To Argue found The Cranberries stretching sonically. The album’s trailer single, the churning, grunge-inflected “Zombie,” was an outspoken protest song concerning the deaths of two young children in an IRA bombing, while the record also spawned introspective fare such as the uileann pipes-enhanced “Daffodil’s Lament” and the evocative “Ode To My Family” – the latter provoking one of O’Riordan’s most affecting vocals.
Riding the crest of a wave, The Cranberries’ third album, To The Faithful Departed, was a muscular, arena-sized rock record which featured several of the band’s signature hits, among them “Salvation” and the upbeat, radio-friendly “When You’re Gone.” Riding high on the charts, it eventually peaked at No.2 in the UK and at No.4 on the Billboard 200, en route to going double-platinum.
Relishing the changing trends in the post-Britpop world, The Cranberries enjoyed further success with 1999’s Bury The Hatchet and 2001’s Wake Up And Smell The Coffee. The former spawned strident UK Top 20 hit “Promises” though several of its stand-out tracks, including the wistful, acoustic “Just My Imagination” and “Animal Instinct“ (O’Riordan’s ode to becoming a mother for the first time) harked back to the dreamy indie-pop sound that originally made these Limerick stalwarts’ names.
Produced by a returning Stephen Street, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee arguably remains the dark horse of The Cranberries’ catalog, housing two finely-wrought, if often overlooked singles, “Analyse” and the environmentally-conscious “Time Is Ticking Out.” In the album’s wake, The Cranberries then went on hiatus, though a reunion in 2009 led to an ambitious comeback album, Roses, in 2012.
Proffering their most eclectic set of songs, the Stephen Street-helmed Roses took in everything from the loops and electronica framing “Fire And Soul” to the reggae-flavored “Raining In My Heart,” along with plenty of the band’s patented, Celtic-flavoured dream-pop on “Tomorrow’ and the blissful “Astral Projection.”
Not a new studio album as such, 2017’s Something Else found The Cranberries recasting ten of their key hits in orchestral and/or “unplugged”-style acoustic settings akin to Tori Amos’ Gold Dust. Issued in April 2017, it showcases the richness and maturity inherent in Dolores O’Riordan’s voice, and while it wasn’t intended as a swansong, Something Else adds a graceful, dignified full stop to a highly covetable artistic legacy.
Outside of The Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan also recorded two solo albums, Are You Listening? (2007) and 2009’s No Baggage, and collaborated with artists renowned for their maverick approach, among them Zucchero, Jah Wobble and – more recently – DARK: a New York-based project also featuring The Smiths’ former bassist, Andy Rourke. That public figures ranging from politicians to Irish President Michael D Higgins are mourning O’Riordan’s passing, and critics cite the debts the likes of Adele and Florence Welch owe her, all proves how deeply she’s left her mark on popular culture.
Looking for more? Discover our 20 best Cranberries songs.