Dolores O’Riordan: A Life That Defied Expectations

In essence, the Cranberries were a band that defied expectations. They emerged when Britpop was the zeitgeist in Britain and the same could be said for grunge in America. The Irish quartet didn’t fit the mould of either of those genres yet still left a massive mark on the era. Therefore, they transcended the formula for success. Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan tragically passed away on January 15 at the age of 46. She was a rock icon whose memory will live long through her music.

If Ireland was seen to be ‘punching above its weight’ in the realm of music then the first half of the nineties were the golden period for that – the Cranberries rivalled U2  in terms of international fame. Their very early work had a tincture of shoegaze to it but they turned to a more refined, more commercially palatable rock sound. It seems as though critics and those in the industry didn’t anticipate their breakthrough which occurred as they were supporting Suede – a band who never made it as big across the seas.

Their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We went platinum Australia, Canada, the US and the UK. Globally, their second effort No Need to Argue sold 17 million copies and made it platinum seven times over in America. So it’s easy to forget how globally revered O’Riordan’s output was.

In many ways, the success came too thick and fast for O’Riordan. She grew up in the remote townland of Ballybricken in Limerick and was suddenly catapulted into startlingly different surroundings – playing in front of 30,000-strong crowds; globetrotting across continents. After a slew of less successful albums, the Cranberries went on a hiatus in 2003 before reforming in 2009. During this gap, O’Riordan put out two under-appreciated solo albums. She also collaborated with the Smiths bassist Andy Rourke in a project called DARK. Over this period she battled with depression, bipolar disorder and anorexia.

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The time has come to revel in the sonic aura of her voice. Its shrill tonality was unparalleled and deserves its place in music history. Her singing glided over the drums and guitars like a jet drifting through fluffy clouds. It had a noticeable Irish tinge to it characterised by the dreamy embellishment and melisma she attached to her notes which were stretched to fine lengths.

Of course, the triad of hits – ‘Linger’, ‘Dreams’ and ‘Zombie’ – have had remarkable longevity continually gracing our stereos. Believe it or not – O’Riordan penned ‘Linger’ at the juvenescent age of 17 – a track inspired by her first kiss. ‘Dreams’ is a love song with a euphoric, oneiric quality to it while ‘Zombie’ was written as a response to the IRA Warrington bombing in 1993.

According to Rolling Stone, O’Riordan recently spoke to guitarist Neil Hogan about recording a new album and going on tour so she had plenty of potential left in her at the time of her passing. Almost 25 years since the height of her fame, Dolores O’Riordan’s music is as relevant as ever.


Adam Bielenberg – Music Editor

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