[17 December 2002]
Despite the title of their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, when the Cranberries first made the scene in late ‘92/early ‘93 with songs like “Dreams” and “Linger”, the simple fact of the matter is, everybody else wasn’t doing it.
Think of the time frame for a moment.
Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten were the predominant forces in music at the time; jangly acoustic pop with female singers wasn’t exactly at the height of its success right about then. While it can’t be said that the Cranberries were truly ahead of their time, they certainly defied a lot of expectations by proving successful in the marketplace with their debut album, even though it was released right as grunge was hitting its apex.
Unfortunately, when the band’s sophomore effort, No Need to Argue, emerged, it was preceded by a single, “Zombie”, that seemed to have borrowed its hard guitars straight from the Seattle scene. The song itself isn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t representative of the album’s material, and it was certainly a career misstep to release it as the first single. If the band’s theory was that the song would say to any detractors, “Look, we’re about more than just the jangle,” then it backfired in spectacular fashion. Songs like “Ode to My Family” and the brilliant “I Can’t Be With You”, which followed as singles from the album, came nowhere near approaching the chart heights of “Dreams” and “Linger”.
It was also becoming all too clear with No Need to Argue that lead singer Dolores Riordan’s instantly-recognizable vocal idiosyncrasies were going to be played up more often than her decidedly-pleasant singing voice. When the band’s third album, To the Faithful Departed (their first without production by Stephen Street), emerged with “Salvation” as the first single, it was clear that this wouldn’t be changing anytime soon.
The late Bruce Fairbairn, who manned the boards for To The Faithful Departed, was a very odd choice of producer for the band. One can only presume that the band’s musical interests were now closer to “Zombie” than “Linger”, since Fairbairn’s track record included work with AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Kiss, and, erm, Loverboy. The album isn’t horrible, but, God knows, it wasn’t up to the standards of its predecessors . . . or, honestly, to its successors, either. The band, however, must’ve thought differently; there are more tracks from To The Faithful Departed on Stars than there are from either of the two albums that preceded it. Songs like “Free to Decide” and “When You’re Gone” aren’t bad, but it’s hard to view “Hollywood” as anything other than a blatant re-tread of “Zombie”.
The band’s next album, Bury The Hatchet, was appropriately titled. The material was much closer to the band’s earlier work, as if the group was saying, “Right, sorry about that last album, please come back and listen this one, because it’s much better.” The lead track, “Animal Instinct”, is one of the band’s best ever songs, and “Just My Imagination” could easily have been taken from the group’s debut.
Unfortunately, despite being very much on the road to recovery, all but the faithful had, indeed, departed by this point.
Thankfully, when the band’s most recent studio album, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, appeared in stores, at least one of the band’s longtime fans had returned: producer Stephen Street. The result was, some would say (and with very few voices of dissention), the album that really should’ve followed No Need To Argue. “Analyse” was, to be honest, a little too much like the bastard child of “Dreams” and “Linger”, but, hey, better that than the bastard child of “Salvation” and “Hollywood”.
The three non-single tracks appearing on Stars are “Daffodil Lament” (voted by the fans as the top non-single from the band’s five albums, and rightfully so), “New New York”, and “Stars”, the latter two tracks are both previously unreleased. “New New York” is, as is to be expected, a reaction to September 11th; the Cranberries have never been afraid of getting a little political with their lyrics. “Stars”, oddly enough, opens with the band sounding like they’ve copped a few moves from Suede’s musical handbook, but it works. This is a truly great track, and it bodes well for the future.
You’d be hard pressed to find a greatest-hits disc with a more impressively laid-out booklet. The first spread is a collection of magazine covers and articles, followed by a collection of live photographs, tour memorabilia, artwork for the band’s singles, a clothesline holding naught but Cranberries tour shirts, promo photos, and candid shots of the group. Only thing missing—lyrics.
It’s too bad that the Cranberries lost the majority of their sales figures based on the creative misstep that was To the Faithful Departed, though it was, at least, a noble failure. But Stars is certainly a fine way for folks to get caught up.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/cranberries-stars/