The Cranberries; live at Barcelona in 2010Alterna2

The 15th January 2021 will mark three years since the untimely death of Dolores O’Riordan, best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of the Irish alternative rock band The Cranberries. Joining the band aged 18 in 1990, O’Riordan demonstrated great potential from the start; guitarist Noel Hogan later recalled ‘We were blown away that this small girl from Limerick had such an amazing voice. The fact that she wasn’t already in a band was a miracle’.

The band’s unique sound was a fusion of O’Riordan’s melancholic, keening vocals and soft rock instrumentals, inspired by the likes of The Cure and The Smiths. From the haunting Siren-like wails of “Daffodil Lament” to the enchanting breathy whispers of “Still Can’t…”, O’Riordan’s lyrics of love, loneliness, and loss set The Cranberries apart from the grunge and Britpop that dominated the rock scene in the early and mid-90s.

The Cranberries’ first album, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993), initially received a lukewarm reception from the British music press. Critics labelled it as unexciting and traditional in comparison to the major British rock releases of the year, such as Suede’s eponymous debut album, or Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish. This perception proved hard to shift.

“American audiences fell in love with the charming foursome”

Nevertheless, great success finally came when the band played as the support act to Suede on their 1993 US tour. While failing to warm to the eccentricities of Brett Anderson, American audiences, with their disregard for hipdom and desire for something different from angst-ridden grunge, fell in love with the charming foursome from Limerick.

American stardom inevitably led to success in Britain, with both Everyone Else and their second album No Need to Argue (1994) going multi-platinum. However, the band remained equally derided and adored by British audiences. One can still encounter bemusement and the occasional judgemental snigger when expressing a preference for O’Riordan’s melodramatic ballads over the acceptably cooler bands of the era.

The Cranberries’ second album featured the seminal hit “Zombie”. Different from their other material, the song’s powerful denunciation of the IRA in response to the Warrington bombing required a different sonic palette, featuring pummelling and distorted guitars. The song was highly successful, topping charts across Europe and North America.

O'Riordan singing onstage at the height of The Cranberries fame, 1995Unknown Author

Following the success of “Zombie”, the band dived straight into the eye of the Irish political hurricane. Although other bands had previously addressed the Troubles, such as U2 with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and Simple Minds with “Belfast Child”, “Zombie” was particularly pertinent, because it coincided with a wave of revulsion against the IRA across Britain and Ireland, in the wake of the Warrington bombing. The bombing touched a particular nerve because it targeted ordinary people, and those it killed (three-year old Tim Parry and 12-year-old Johnathan Ball) were so young.

Speaking of the IRA, O’Riordan said ‘It’s not Ireland, it’s some idiots living in the past’. Identifying her rejection of sectarian strife with Ireland’s younger generation, this was a slap in the face to those who, in response to the song, accused O’Riordan of being naïve and taking sides in a conflict she didn’t understand. The song also carried a more universal message against violence towards innocent civilians in conflict, a message that O’Riordan emphasised through dedicating the song to the people of war-torn Bosnia and Rwanda throughout the 90s.

The highly-successful album No Need to Argue was followed by a string of comparatively disappointing albums and The Cranberries split in 2003. Despite re-uniting in 2009 after O’Riordan’s under-the-radar solo stint, the band found themselves unable to re-discover their mid-90s flair.

“The song also carried a more universal message against violence”

Struggling with the strains of fame and success, O’Riordan felt increasingly isolated, she suffered with depression and anorexia throughout her adult life. Following a suicide attempt, O’Riordan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013 and her marriage to former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton came to an end the following year.


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O’Riordan died unexpectedly on 15 January 2018, the result of accidental drowning in a bath while intoxicated by alcohol. On her death, The Cranberries split for good, with Hogan commenting ’The Cranberries is the four of us, you know?... Without Dolores, I don’t see the point of doing this, and neither do the boys’.

With her Celtic spirituality and heart-felt lyrics, O’Riordan spoke to the trials and tribulations of a young generation grappling with their emotions and frustrated with the conflict passed down to them by their forebears. In a harsh world still plagued by injustice and violence, her voice is as loud today as it ever was.