Sour notes from on high

Charles Taylor reviews The Cranberries third release "To the Faithful Departed".

Published May 6, 1996 6:20PM (EDT)

When the Cranberries' "Zombie" leapt out of the radio last year, it
wasn't the sound of ambitions just being announced but, for the five
dread-laden minutes the song lasted, realized. Trading in the catchy
ethereality that had characterized previous alt-rock hits like "Dreams"
and "Linger" for wake-the-dead guitars and the swoops and growls of
Dolores O'Riordan's voice, the band performed the song as an act of will.

Having dragged us into the nightmare of Irish history, the Cranberries
summed it up with the withering dismissal "It's the same old theme
since 1916" and then left us to find our own way out. "Zombie" was a
paradox: a political song about the trap of politics, a historical song
that fought its way out of history's suffocating grasp. Nothing else on
"No Need to Argue" matched "Zombie" (what could?), but the single was
the band's declaration that they weren't about to let much get in their

The shock of their just-released third album "To the Faithful
Departed" is that, by their own choice, they are utterly hemmed in by the
barricades "Zombie" blasted through. The Cranberries have become
pamphleteers. We listen to what they have to say here because their
sense of pop craft is perhaps sharper than ever. There's none of the
melodic splintering of numbers that sometimes caused the first two
albums to skid off course. The hooks carry the songs through, but that
only makes the puerility of the lyrics worse.

The first single,"Salvation," gets you bobbing to the beat almost before
the song's gotten under way (thanks largely to the drumming of Fergal Lawler
who acquits himself admirably throughout), only to leave you
open-mouthed as
O'Riordan sings, "To all those people doin' lines/Don't do it, don't do
it/Inject your soul with liberty, it's free, it's free."

And that's one of the livelier moments. With songs whose titles tell
the tale ("War Child," "Bosnia") O'Riordan feels compelled to share every
pensee that casts a cloud across her diminutive brow. She even
interrupts a song about her wedding day to ask, "What of Kurt Cobain?/
Will his presence still remain?" It's unbelievably pompous of O'Riordan
to diminish Kurt Cobain's contributions as being ephemeral while ladling
out socially conscious gruel that will sound like yesterday's news two
months from now.

It's clear from both the songwriting credits and the image the
Cranberries have chosen to present that O'Riordan's is the band's guiding
sensibility. And though she sings "Harassment's not my forte" on one
number, hectoring is. Throughout "To the Faithful Departed" she berates
us for going on with our pitiful, insignificant lives while big things --
you know, war, poverty, the whole global chaos bit -- are happening.
"There's a war in Russia and Sarajevo too" she sings on "Free to Decide,"
"So to hell with what you're thinking . . . You should leave your life
behind." But is there anything more insulated than the fantasy of being
able to leave your life behind for some grand cause? O'Riordan is bucking
for rock and roll sainthood here. She's handing down the word from on
high, though she thinks we're not really worthy to receive it. On "To the
Faithful Departed" she is the world.

That's what makes "I Just Shot John Lennon" not only the most
appalling song here, but the most revealing of O'Riordan's cushy
fantasies. On the Cranberries' last American tour, O'Riordan performed
some numbers on a platform high above the stage. She wasn't just
putting herself above her band (whom she barely acknowledged), but
above us, too. "I Just Shot John Lennon" tells you why: because you never
know what sort of slob is waiting out there in the dark. "In 1980 he paid
the price," O'Riordan sings, "He should have stayed at home/He should
never have cared," and it's clear she means that Lennon should never
have cared about trying to rejoin public life, never have cared about us.

On "To the Faithful Departed," it's us, having the gall to go on living
while people are dying in Chechnya and Sarajevo, who are as "sad and
sorry and sickening" a sight as Mark David Chapman. Chapman thought
that John Lennon had become just another rich, hypocritical,
out-of-touch rock star. You can imagine him listening to the contempt in
Dolores O'Riordan's voice throughout this album and having all his
crackpot notions about how little audiences matter to rock stars
confirmed. That is, if he isn't grooving on having finally, in some ways, made the charts.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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