We have only made it a couple weeks into the year, and already the music world has lost one its greatest icons all too soon.
Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer and one of the main creative minds behind the legendary band, The Cranberries, passed away on Jan. 15 at the all-too-early age of 46.
Fans of a younger generation may wonder who exactly Dolores is and why she is considered so important to the genres of rock and pop. Make no mistake, The Cranberries defined popular rock music in the 90s, going on to influence scores of other bands for years to come.
First joining the band after successfully auditioning in 1990, O’Riordan would go on to release seven albums with the group. During that time she became known for her iconic pixie cuts trimmed with a rainbow of different colors, as well as her distinctive yodel that she often worked into her tracks.
The most obvious example comes from the band’s debut single, “Dreams”. On this simple, ethereal pop ballad, O’Riordan’s wailing cries add to the mysticism laid throughout the tune. The sheer quality of this song, as well as the rest of “Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?,” is astounding considering that it was their debut release of mainstream material.
One key to the rock band becoming successful is having a vocalist with a very clear delivery. I do not think I have heard any vocalist of quality come close to sounding like Dolores in timbre; so great was her depth and range as a performer.
As well as singing, O’Riordan was also one of the main songwriters for the band. In fact for that first audition in 1990, she composed an early version of “Linger” — a track that would go on to be one of the biggest tracks The Cranberries ever released. While most of her lyrics do revolve around a central theme of love of relationships, the band’s biggest single, “Zombie”, takes a far more political tone.
Written about “The Troubles”, a deadly decades-long conflict that took place mostly in Northern Ireland, “Zombie” sees O’Riordan at her most intense. She is clearly emotionally invested in the story of the song, which was still affecting her homeland when it was written in 1994. Even 20 years after the end of “The Troubles”, the lyrics still pack an emotional punch like any respectable rock song should:
“With their tanks, and their bombs / And their bombs, and their guns / In your head, in your head, they are fighting.”
In many ways, O’Riordan and The Cranberries typify the early 90s rock sound, quite similar to bands like R.E.M. and The Smashing Pumpkins. However, it would be a misrepresentation to say that they did not maintain their own distinctive style throughout their career. It is why, even today, the music of O’Riordan and The Cranberries remains some of the most beloved of its time, entertaining listeners of all ages.
Of course, O’Riordan did have her difficulties. In 2017, she publicly discussed her struggle with bipolar disorder with Metro, saying that she “was on the hypomanic side of the spectrum on and off for a long period”. Early reports also indicate that the singer may have died as a result of fentanyl poisoning.
However, rather than focus on the tragic circumstances surrounding her death, I feel that it is much more constructive to focus on her brilliant achievements as an artist.
She truly was an icon of her generation, and no amount of fancy-worded praise will completely capture just how impactful she was.
At this point, all I can write now is some her most poetic lyrics from her song “No Need to Argue”, which serves as a fitting endnote to a brilliant life and career:
“There’s no need to argue anymore / I gave all I could, but it left me so sore / And the thing that makes me mad / Is the one thing I had.”
R.I.P. Dolores O’Riordan (1971-2018)
Kyle Land is a news editor and a music writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.