Month: January 2018

Viva Dolores O’Riordan

THE CRANBERRIES Promotional photo of Irish rock group From Left to Right: Mike Hogan, Dolores O'Riordan, Fergal Lawler and Noel Hogan

I bought The Cranberries song Linger on cassingle at the time of its re-release in 1994. That song and Soundgarden’s newly released album Superunknown are linked in my memory, tethered as part of my overall youthful experience of the groundswell of creativity and good will that the Seattle-sound revolution had ushered in in 1991-92, when people all over the world—consumers, in record industry parlance—suddenly made an album—by a band dressed in thrift store hand-me downs—a generational mega-hit.

In 1994, the popularity and sheer force of Seattle bands (and all manner of other generationally-associated American bands) had resulted in a rising tide of youthful enthusiasm-for and awareness-of change across music industries, in America and abroad.

To be swept up in that period of music-making was exciting, energising and full of seemingly endless listening options. I had very little money to spend and so had to be highly selective with whatever I purchased. I had been primed for Superunknown by Soundgarden’s previous effort: Badmotorfinger (one of the great masterpieces of 90s music). A CD album set me back between $25 and $30—a monstrous amount of money for me at that time and one that had the potential to literally send me broke for weeks (I couldn’t simply buy every new release no matter how much I liked the band). Each purchase had to be carefully vetted. What was the band’s track record? Was this their first, second, third or more album? (Better to buy their second, in some cases, rather than chance it on a first timer—on the other hand, without taking chances you risked being left behind and potentially missing out on discovering some new, great band). Friends recommendations mattered as well—as did friend-access to older brothers’ CD collections (potentially a loan-copy of an album could be procured for a trial run of a week or so). Could songs be taped from radio for pre-purchase listening (presuming I had something to tape them on, which in 1994 I certainly didn’t)?

Even the purchase of a cassingle was vetted, as the cheapest form of permanent access to a bands music I had to consider whether I’d later buy the album (and thus waste approx. $5, in advance, buying a single—and accompanying b-side—that I would later own anyway). These considerations had to be weighed against whether or not the song was worthy of purchase as a single, just how much replay value would I get out of it? Thus, the song had to be damn good, I had to want to listen to it over and over and I likely wouldn’t be buying the album version of it anytime soon (this last consideration being tempered somewhat by the reality that most singles I did buy were from bands that I was unsure of, whose work I was unfamiliar with or who had limited output with little to no quality consensus about their work from friends). These were the conditions which saw me buy the singles for (but not the associated albums for) Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train (which was already a hit at the time I picked it up) and the Smashing Pumpkins Smile (which I recall buying on CD single for around $7, I knew I was still on the fence about the band as a whole so I felt pretty comfortable in that lone purchase at that time, my attitude would change with the release of their 1979 single in 1996). This was also the space that Linger occupied.

I didn’t know anything about The Cranberries, not even their individual names when I bought that first cassingle. There wasn’t mass media coverage of the band. I had seen no interviews with them and nor would I have expected to. They were a very minor blip in a much bigger cultural movement. All that I did know was that I liked their song and that it struck a chord with me. I had seen the song’s video clip a couple of times, late at night, on Rage (an Australian late night music video program which showcased new videos, band selected videos and top charting single’s videos for each week). That Linger stuck with me in my waking hours, and haunted me for days after first hearing it, spoke volumes for its ability to impress and impact me on a personal level. I took the plunge, bought the cassingle, loved it and frankly never heard much more out of the band again, until later that year. I don’t recall any follow-up single (and I can’t ever recall hearing Dreams, their other Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? era single release, until some time later—for the record, it didn’t have the same impact on me as Linger and perhaps if I’d heard that first I might have been inclined to dismiss the band outright—a case of a providential first encounter, shall I say).

I paid no great mind to the absence of The Cranberries after I bought Linger because there was no shortage of great and exciting music to be swept up with in the 90s, and despite the contemporary media concocted narrative about the youth of the nineties being cynical and their music being depressed and negative the truth of the matter was that there was never any of that that I saw—quite the opposite in fact. Those wholly negative associations still stand today, lazily hashed out by journalists, music reviewers and people who have no first hand experience of just how electric and generationally binding the nineties music scene actually was. Bands became a generational focal point across the entire decade and that’s precisely why the work of so many of those artists has endured, influenced and stood apart: being something special that is not easily reproduced or mass manufactured. I always understood the ‘cynicism and negativity’ critique to simply be another generations scolding of youth’s unwillingness to go along with the prevailing establishments attitude of the time. (Nothing changes across generations in that regard, clearly.) The world is not a worse place because the youth of the nineties purchased Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral though it likely owes that release—and many, many others of the time—a debt of thanks for generously broadening the focus of music’s themes of human experience and modes of musical production and expression.

I saw that lazy negativity creep into articles eulogising Dolores O’Riordan this week—backfooted authors who wrote shame-facedly and apologised unnecessarily for the naiveté or ‘simplified times’ of the nineties, oh those dark unenlightened times of yore which didn’t benefit from the enlightenment of an era in which grown adults relentlessly slang verbal abuse at each other over Twitter because of differing political or social opinions, an era when (like no other before!) the media can be genuinely trusted (see The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s 1992 track Television, The Drug of the Nation—another nineties highpoint—that dissembles the media, its ever-predictable behaviours and their associated social impacts—it’s every bit as relevant today as it was then), an era in which the rise of political-academic-media language has given us a plethora of names and terms to divide each one of us into seperate discrete unrelated ‘cells’ but hasn’t been insightful, intelligent or simply human enough to coin any populist phrases that might bind us together so that we can better see our own common humanity (Love is all you need sang The Beatles—resurgent in popularity in the 90s thanks to the The Beatles Anthology documentary—thanks John, Paul, George and Ringo, apparently you were from an idiot-simple era and your exclusionary sentiment doesn’t stand the test of time, we’ll take it from here #BeatlesCancelled), an era in which reality TV stars are our cultural and aspirational leaders, we’re dissatisified with bloated overlong movies that don’t make sense but we watch them anyway because we know we aren’t going to get anything better any time soon. And, war? You’ve got to be kidding. That ancient dark ages activity from the nineties? We haven’t seen war in decades. ROFL. SMH. Oh, so much has changed for the better, hasn’t it?

Truth is, there are ups and downs in every era. Good stuff is always happening somewhere. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that and sometimes I just have to ignore Twitter, Youtube and whatever mainstream media opinion-tool is shoving its tainted version of reality down my throat at that moment and go out and look about for myself to see what’s really happening in the real world (in that regard today is really no different than the 90s—très cynical-chic much? Apologies. #HeartSymbol.). Maybe it was my own fault to think that the occasion of the death of a musician whose life and career had meaning—beyond superficial commercial and marketing associations—would inspire authors to put aside their own negative navel gazing, utterly trite career observations (she had a good voice, they made a lot of money, Zombie is their best known song, she had short hair, some of her youthful statements don’t really hold up, her lyrics are simple, their music was ‘typical’ of the nineties, the nineties aren’t like today, no one listens to The Cranberries these days, the world has moved on) and bullshit generational history ‘facts’ gleaned from the internet or sluiced through an author’s memory-gate, gummied-up with filters mouldering-over with the bitterness of their own unfulfilled dreams to reach deeper, be more vulnerable, put themselves on the line and describe how The Cranberries reached them or their peers at a pivotal point in their own lives (if ever). Nah, bullshit—these people were just slapping out ‘numbers of words’ to satisfy their editors requirement for fresh clickbait (that is, with the exception of The Irish Times who seemed to fully understand that the best way to eulogise O’Riordan was to focus on her, her achievements and her impact—not on an author’s treatise for delivering the most appropriate social-programming buzz-worded and factoid-roided article—or to simply let the fans speak from their own hearts. Good work Irish Times.).

I did cross paths with The Cranberries again, several months later in 1994. By that time there had been great highs and lows in music but the 90s journey ever-onward was as exciting as ever. Kurt Cobain had died, leaving behind shocked peers and fans and a wound that would forever remind of the enormity of loss of his talent and future potential. Stone Temple Pilots had released Purple, their introspective slow burn follow up to Core. Pantera went even harder with their follow up to 1992s Vulgar Display of Power with Far Beyond Driven and delivered a classic anthem—and perfect accompanying video—in the form of the single I’m Broken. Hole released a hard edge grunge-punk missile with the perfectly titled Live Through This that featured so many great songs that to spotlight any one would only diminish the cumulative effect of an extraordinary album. Rollins Band further cemented their already formidable reputation for delivering albums of tension, release and musical experimentation with Weight. Kyuss’ Welcome to Sky Valley sounded gargantuan and like nothing else being made at that time, from opener Gardenia to closer Whitewater the band, exceptional vocalist John Garcia and that very album held and continues to hold a special place in the memories of fuzzed out heavy rock fans. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah McLachlan crept beneath the skin, discomforting and comforting in equal measure, the solo version of Possession that closed the album (a hidden track) stands aside Tori Amos’ cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit as one of the most haunted and memorable songs of the nineties. R.E.M. went all rock star on us with songs like What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? and Crush With Eyeliner from their appropriately titled album Monster: the band, like those singles, seemed to be everywhere in those days—a world without an ever-present R.E.M. is a strange place to be. Portishead released Dummy an album that sounded like a fever dream from a faraway place replete with drones, repetition and dissonance that was held together by the sinew of Beth Gibbons’ eerie and soaring vocal. It was so otherworldly; just the ticket for a decade that prided itself on the alternative—it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that it became as popular as it did (the 90s were full of such surprises). And Grace the debut album by Jeff Buckley laid a phenomenally impressive groundwork for a future that would sadly not come to pass with raw, emotional song highlights such as Eternal Life and The Last Goodbye. Into that incredibly rich environment The Cranberries No Need To Argue was released. That time I was ready for them.

I didn’t hesitate to buy No Need To Argue the first moment it appeared in shops. I was still primarily only familiar with Linger but the chord that that lone song had struck with me urged me to shut up, put down my still very limited funds and bank on this band having the goods to hold up a full album pretty much the first week of its release. I had heard none of the songs, not a one. I wasn’t disappointed. From start to finish No Need To Argue spoke to me every bit as much as Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power had in 92, as much as Helmet’s Meantime (92), Stone Temple Pilots Core (92), Tools Undertow (93), Counting Crows August and Everything After (93), Pearl Jam’s Vs (93) Alice in Chains Dirt (92) and Jar Of Flies (released in January 94, just prior to my purchase of Linger), Front 242’s 06:21:03:11 Up Evil (93), Rollins Band’s The End of Silence (92), Kyuss’ Blues for the Red Sun (92), Tori Amos’ Under the Pink (released in January 94) or the soundtracks to Judgment Night (93) and The Crow (March 94). It didn’t exist separate to any of these, it was part of the enormous excitement of an ever-expanding list of great albums that connected, engaged, moved, provoked thought, provoked feeling, bridged gaps, created new found friends and pushed me further out of whichever zone I had been in previously to some new exciting territory yet to be fully discovered. In short, it was great.

I never considered The Cranberries divisible. They were a band, not a lead singer with a back-up band, and in my estimation they were more stronger for that fact (it was the 90s after all, an era of remarkable and great bands). I read media gossip in the mid-90s about Dolores going solo and hoped that those rumours weren’t true. My feeling then was that they were unique and strong and that they delivered music with vision, insight and purpose, and that while, no doubt, solo success beckoned what they had created with each other was well worth fighting for, to keep going—ever onward. That’s the selfishness of a dedicated fan for you. Their follow-up album To The Faithful Departed (96) reportedly wasn’t well received and they seemed to disappear for much of the rest of the nineties, releasing only one further album Bury The Hatchet (99) that decade. I felt then as I do now that they unjustly missed the latter half of that decade, a decade that their pioneering music had helped to shape and define.

When I look at the four Cranberries I see a family. That concept—band as family—is one that Cameron Crowe well understood when he made Almost Famous, a rock’n’roll movie (perhaps the rock’n’roll movie), a movie about family—whether that family is the one that you’re born into or the one that you find standing next to you on a stage, in front of a crowd, at home, in some faraway distant land or playing to you on the turntable in front of you, the CD player or through the digital device in your hands. Families have meaning no matter how they were created and no matter who they are made of. It was to those three family members, the remaining Cranberries, that my mind travelled to, once the shock of the discovery of Dolores O’Riordan’s death had passed. As an observer I know that that family will never be whole again and I share their pain that this simple truth will not alter, be undone or diminish with the passing of time.

I don’t know that much about Dolores O’Riordan, but I do know that she and the band that she was a member of were an awesome, exciting, vital part of a phenomenal generational groundswell of music creativity, that their albums earned their place amongst the great releases of the 90s aside bands across diverse styles of music, that they are fondly remembered and that their music will be rediscovered again and again in bedrooms, on screens, in headphones, in the casual conversations that pass between those that were there and those for whom stories of them will lead to the chance purchase of a song or an album—much as I did in 1994 when I took a chance with that first cassingle of Linger.

There’s nothing else to say, just that perhaps I erred in seeking solace in other peoples words when so easily what I should have done is to have done the very most obvious thing. Put on some Cranberries and listen to what they have to say.

No need to argue.

xx

Three videos to end out, first up: Linger

From No Need To Argue, first Ode To My Family:

And finally, taped at a performance of the Late Show with David Letterman, Zombie Live in November 1994: