Album review: Dolores O’Riordan–No Baggage
Dolores O’Riordan–No Baggage–Rounder–2009
You know I’m such a fool for you/you got me wrapped around your finger. It’s been 16 years since “Linger” became the Cranberries’ first Top Ten hit, and that song is still lingering in my head, even though I was never aware of particularly liking it. The Cranberries, out of Limerick, Ireland, made those sort of inroads on popular music—they broke through with mainstream success during those murky years of 1993-1995, two years after Nevermind, when “modern rock” had obliterated party metal, guitar solos, and anyone over 30 from MTV and the pop charts. The Crans were alternative, Celtic, and indie enough to alienate your Don Henley-loving uncle but melodic enough to bring Bon Jovi girls over to the other side. At the center of it all was Dolores O’Riordan, a singer whose thick, yodeling Irish accent led to countless comparisons to Sinead O’Connor, but who overcame those with a distinctive style of toggling between a breathy Olivia Newton John impression (the beginning of “Dreams,” for instance) and a snotty, full-throated yelp (“Salvation”). She was a ballsy rocker, too, getting increasingly strident as the ‘Berries went on, appearing in the “Zombie” video covered with gold paint in a mock-crucifixion scene. By the beginning of the next decade, the Cranberries were seeing diminishing returns, and in 2003, called it quits.
So, Dolores O’Riordan—where is she now? On Rounder Records, of all places! She’s also one of the ten richest women in Ireland, according to The Times, which might explain why she’s felt no urgency to produce new work—up until now, releasing only one solo record in six years. But she’s back on August 25th with No Baggage, an eleven-song set of swirling, orchestral adult-alt rock, not terribly removed from her old band’s sound, so those hoping for some sort of Rounder-esque foray into roots music will be disappointed. However, No Baggage is an assured set of sweeping melodies, and O’Riordan’s trademark canary call is in fine shape. Whether her singing gets on your nerves is up to you—it’s been an aforementioned polarizing issue in the past, and she manipulates her vocal affectations as much now as ever. The other sticking point is the ultra-dense production values; it’s atmospheric and layered, getting into Enya territory at times. Nothing sounds live here—the drums digitized and the guitars and synths heavily processed and pushed in.
The songs themselves, though, are as strong as ever. There is plenty of tranquil material here: “Apple of My Eye” is a graceful love song; “It’s You,” finds joy in the repetition of a simple melody; “Stupid” is a much prettier song than one with that title would suggest. Throughout, O’Riordan embraces the catchy verse and the grand chorus, although the bridges tend to be clunkers, as on the otherwise-strong “Switch of the Moment.” Lots of singles potential here, if that means much anymore, and the first one is “The Journey,” out now, which sounds like something that would play over one of those high school anti-drug multimedia presentations, with its big “This is your life/This is your moment” chorus. Still, O’Riordan sounds insistent that her own moment has returned, and with No Baggage‘s satisfying songcraft, she may be right.