Dolores O’Riordan’s second solo album is a little bit grittier, her vocals a little bit breathier and somewhat more studio-enhanced than her previous release. The frontwoman of the Cranberries still has her pixie-punk hairdo and skinny frame, and her songwriting still has its same pop. O’Riordan says that this is the closest she’s gotten to No Need to Argue, arguably the most influential and groundbreaking album of their career. Gone are the raw vocals and guttural yodels, though. She gives her yodels a certain sheen, and combined with the background vocals they sort of gloss across the refrains.
The woman can certainly still rock, of course, with songs like “Skeleton” conjuring “Zombie” and “Salvation”. Her hooks can still carve themselves into the listener’s memory within just moments, and her sweet pop melodies grab your ears. “I probably haven’t worn my heart on my sleeve like this since the second album [No Need to Argue]”, says O’Riordan. With these similarities and apparent release of any past hangups, No Baggage is the perfect launch pad for O’Riordan’s return to the band, who reunited in 2009 with a tour in the US.
The beginning of the disc, “Switch Off the Moment”, is a murky, scattered, and echoing mashing of rumbling bass (Marco Mendoza) and O’Riordan’s vocals. Pulsating guitars (Dan Brodbeck) combine with a steady smattering of drums and bass, leading up to the booming refrain. Several buoyant vocal tracks with plenty of reverb add to the powerful impact. When O’Riordan sings, “I ask you please will you catch me when I fall”, the listener can almost hear her soaring downward as guitars and ghostly vocals follow her descent. In this way, O’Riordan shows she’s still a master of evoking emotion and making her sounds reflect her words. No Need to Argue shaped this particular critic’s emotional self in her teen years, and 15 years later, No Baggage provides some of the same emo qualities to a since matured woman. Instead of a bleak, aching tone, however, the latter has more of a carpe diem feeling with songs like “The Journey” (“This is your life / This is your moment”) and nostalgia with such songs as “It’s You” (“I remember driving in the car / Our destiny was never far ... Where did all the time go?”).
Another essential track is “Throw Your Arms Around Me”, a meditative, chanting piece marked by soaring vocals and self-harmonies. Polyrhythms by Corey Thompson introduce the song, with a round-style of tribal chanting. An exotic set of percussion and a didgeridoo (Matt Grady) offer an otherworldly quality to some of O’Riordan’s most relaxed (and most effective) yodels of the album. What sounds like a Celtic pipe sounds off in the distance. A breakdown jam follows with several layers of vocals, percussion, and limited accompaniment flows and grows in intensity until it connects with the chorus again.