Dolores O’Riordan, who died on Monday (Jan 15), had a voice that defined a generation of rock music, a strikingly unique female voice that rang out in the sea of gruff, snarling grunge rockers in the early 1990s. Along with guitarist Noel Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawle, The Cranberries was, for a time, one of the biggest bands in the world.
Linger made us stand up and take notice of The Cranberries. Zombie made the band huge global superstars. And it was O’Riordan’s voice that carried those signature tunes to the iconic status they now enjoy. Here are 10 songs that defined O’Riordan’s career, both with the Cranberries, and as a solo artiste, and in which that voice was at its yodelling, lilting best.
Ode To My Family
It’s only apt that we open with the opening track to arguably the Cranberries’ best album, No Need To Argue. Many have likened Ode To My Family to Linger, but Ode To My Family is more than just a follow up to their first hit. It’s a tender, emotional tribute to her family and her life before fame, with a gloriously understated string arrangement, and O’Riordan’s yearning, pleading vocals playing up the melancholic yet hopeful nature of the song.
Released in 1993, The Cranberries’ breakthrough single had us wrapped around its finger from the get-go – the gentle guitar-led intro, and O’Riordan’s gentle but achingly yearning vocals urging us along a stream of emotions accompanied by a moving strings arrangement. Twenty-five years later, it remains a beautiful love song that will, well, linger on as one of O’Riordan’s finest moments.
Funnily enough, I first heard this song in Cantonese, covered by Faye Wong. When I got around to listening to the original version, I was swept away by the endlessly dreamy nature of the song – O’Riordan’s soft vocals gliding smoothly along the flow of the melody, then reaching its peak with that signature yodel. This is a song that you listen to with your eyes closed, lulled into a dream-like trance and swaying along with each and every line.
Released in 1994 during the angst-filled grunge era of the early 1990s and just before the rise of Britpop, Zombie was a signature tune that stands as arguably one of the most iconic rock songs ever released. The song starts off with the simple jangle of a guitar, before exploding into a wall of wondrous noise, a raucous, angst-filled opening intro that lasts almost a minute before O’Riordan’s voice kicks in, with that iconic drawl and signature lilt at the end of each verse. And when the chorus sets in, once again accompanied by that glorious wall of noise, there is absolutely no chance of you not headbanging and screaming along with it. O’Riordan’s voice was at its peak with this song – she wields it like an instrument itself, dovetailing perfectly with the rest of the band before fading away and making way for almost a minute and a half of pure instrumental mayhem.
When You’re Gone
After the huge success of Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? and No Need To Argue, 1996’s To The Faithful Departed album was a bit of a disappointment, both critically and commercially. Most of the songs sounded like a rehash of the previous albums’ musical styles, and the political and social themes in songs like Warchild, Bosnia, and Salvation were a bit too heavy-handed for the masses. The standout track of the album, however, is When You’re Gone, one of the band’s best ballads, and the one song on the album that didn’t sound like O’Riordan was trying too hard to sound like she did on Zombie.
Salvation, salvation, salvation is free! The glorious simplicity of this all-out rocker’s chorus is its greatest strength. When the band played this during its 2012 concert at Stadium Negara, Kuala Lumpur, even the most conservative of rock fans were on their feet jumping and screaming along with it.
The band’s fourth album, Bury The Hatchet, may not contain as many hits as its predecessors, but it still contained this thumping rocker that, like Zombie, tricks you into a state of quiet contemplation with its cooing vocal intro before assaulting your senses with a crashing clash of sounds, with O’Riordan’s voice at its snarling, angsty best.
With its 2001 album Wake Up And Smell The Coffee pretty much sinking without a trace, The Cranberries split up in 2003, and reunited in 2009 for live shows. The band released Roses, its sixth album 2012, and it sounded like the hiatus had done the band good. While the signature Cranberries style was still there, the songs seemed fresher and O’Riordan’s voice is mellower and less angsty. A breezy, jangly number that has O’Riordan actually sounding happy for a change, Tomorrow is probably the best song on that album (and of the Cranberries’ post-hiatus era).
Apple Of My Eye
During The Cranberries’ hiatus, O’Riordan embarked on a largely uneventful solo career that saw the singer struggling to forge her own style outside of the band. She did manage to release two solo albums – 2007’s Are You Listening? and 2009’s No Baggage – and the beautiful Apple From My Eye from the latter record stands out as one of the songs where O’Riordan manages to sound like Dolores O’Riordan the solo artiste rather than Dolores O’Riordan the lead singer of the Cranberries.
No Need To Argue
Just as we opened with the opening track from No Need To Argue, we’ll end this list with its closing track. Though the Cranberries’ biggest album contains plenty of great songs, its title track is arguably (pun intended) its most underrated. Coming in at a mere two minutes and five seconds, the song features just a single organ and some backing vocals, with O’Riordan’s heartbreakingly fraught vocals taking centerstage. Listening to this now, after her death, it’s hard not to lament the loss of one of the most unique female rock vocalists of all time.