The Cranberries - Biography
The legacy of the Cranberries is mildly disappointing given the promise they showed early on; two really solid albums followed by a not-so-good album followed by relative obscurity for their next two releases. The group's multi-platinum status was originally achieved through often accusatory love songs set to dreamily gentle, jangly acoustic pop, and sung by one of the more charismatic female singers of the nineties. As the tide of popular music shifted in the middle of the decade, however, the Cranberries tried to tweak their massively successful sound in favor of mainstream modern rock. The resulting third album, 1996's To The Faithful Departed, was a misfire, leading to a decline in popularity that the group have yet to regain. And, since they have been on hiatus since 2003 while lead singer Dolores O'Riordian has gone solo, it seems that they never will.
The Cranberries began in Limerick, Ireland, as the Cranberry Saw Us, a four-piece that featured guitarist Noel Hogan, his bass-playing brother Mike, drummer Fergal Lawler and vocalist Nyall Quinn. Upon Quinn's departure, the remaining trio decided to try out female vocalists, and they put an ad out in hopes of finding one. The girl who got the job was Dolores O'Riordian, who impressed the band with the original lyrics and vocal melody she set to one of their songs, “Linger.” Now a four-piece again, the band recorded a demo which they sold in record shops throughout Ireland. The 300 copies they had pressed sold out and the group set about making another tape. They decided to simplify their name and became the Cranberries, recording their second demo while still in their teens. The demo, which contained rough cuts of “Dreams” and “Linger,” was recorded at Xeric Studios and overseen by Pearse Gilmore. The new tape was sent to labels in the UK and earned them attention from the industry as well as the press.
After a major label bidding war, the band signed with Island Records, and went into the studio with Gilmore, who now acted as their manager as well as their producer. They recorded one ill-fated and aptly-titled single with Gilmore, “Uncertain,” which was panned by the press due to tentative performances and poor production. Tensions were now running high between Gilmore and the group, who blamed him for the single's lack of success. Before recording their debut in 1992, it came to the band's attention that Gilmore had signed a self-serving deal with Island behind their backs, one that would improve his studios. The weight brought on by the negative press and managerial betrayal led to arguments among the band members themselves, and they almost broke up before recording their first album. Ultimately, they stuck together and fired Gilmore from the roles of manager and producer, filling those respective slots with Geoff Travis of Rough Trade, and Stephen Street, who had produced the Smiths and the Psychedelic Furs.
In the spring of 1993, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (Island) finally hit the shelves. It was not the coming-out party the band had desired, as it received very little attention upon its release in the UK. The powerful singles that followed it, “Dreams” and “Linger,” achieved the same results. That summer, the band opened up for The The on a string of dates in the US, and repeated that process in the fall with Suede. On both tours, the group were surprised at the warm receptions they received, which were often more enthusiastic than those of their already-established headliners. Thanks to the strength of their live performances, MTV began to play the video for “Linger” regularly. By the end of 1993, it had reached number 8 on the charts, while the accompanying album went double-platinum. Back in Britain, things were heating up for the band as well, and by the summer of 1994, Everybody Else had reached number one.
Around the same time, O'Riordian married the band's tour manager, Don Burton, in a ceremony that gained a considerable amount of press attention. This publicity, along with the frequent spotlighting of O'Riordian in the group's videos (in “Linger,” she sings in an alley by herself while her band mates are very seldom shown in brief clips), caused her to be not only the voice of the band, but the face, whether she wanted to be or not. That fall, a second LP was released, the Stephen Street-produced No Need to Argue (1994 Island). With the lead-off single, “Zombie,” the band was painted as a slightly angrier version of themselves, even though the rest of the album is more sonically similar to the gentle hit, “Ode to My Family” than to the hard-rocking post-grunge of “Zombie.” Either way, things were on the upswing for the band, and the album, which debuted at number 6, went triple-platinum within a year, selling more copies than their debut.
The group spent a good portion of 1995 touring and fending off a plague of rumors that O'Riordian was planning to quit and go solo. The rumors were temporarily laid to rest when they set about recording a new album. For their third outing, the production talents of Stephen Street were inexplicably swapped for those of Bruce Fairbairn, a producer known for his work with muscular rock bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, and Aerosmith. The resulting LP, To the Faithful Departed (1996 Island) turned out to be exactly what one would expect a product of such a partnership to sound like; way less “Linger,” and a lot more “Zombie.” They still occasionally sound like the Cocteau Twins and the Smiths on the album, but mostly they strive for an epic rock sound that never finds its feet. What critics saw to be the greatest offender was O'Riordian's unfortunate lyrical hubris; the endearing love songs have been replaced here by anti-drug messages (“Salvation”), lamentations about war (“War Child,” “Bosnia”), and even one song from the viewpoint of Mark David Chapman (“I Just Shot John Lennon”). The album sold strongly at first, eventually going platinum, and “Salvation” did well enough on the charts. However, it was clear that their popularity had waned, and the album couldn't produce a single that matched the success of “Dreams” or “Zombie.”
The fall of 1996 saw a resurgence of break-up rumors when the band canceled tours in Europe and Australia, and again, the rumors were denied. The group returned in 1999 with Bury the Hatchet (Island), where they wisely took a sharp turn towards adult contemporary. The Cranberries were now a band that satisfied adults who used to like alternative music, and they continued this trend for 2001's Wake Up And Smell The Coffee (MCA). After a greatest hits collection called Stars: The Best of came out in 2003, the group announced their decision to go on hiatus, and all the rumors about O'Riordian's potential solo career were finally validated when she released Are You Listening in 2007. She is now prepping a second album for a 2009 release.