Everyone has those pivotal moments in their relationship with music. They might feel totally transformational at the time and you are soaking it all in while acknowledging the big deal taking place.
Or it can be more subtle and it’s only when you look back you realise the significance of ‘it’.
For me, the Cranberries have been both.
No Need to Argue came out when I was just 13 years young, which might explain the puppy fat. Or maybe Mum was right and I was ‘just big boned’.
Its lead single, Zombie, wasn’t just released to the public, it was unleashed on the world. This wild chunky thumping banger somehow toed the line between almost-grunge and the pop-rock mainstream dominating the charts.
This was peak-Nirvana era at the time, so those two genres didn’t actually feel worlds apart. Even the likes of Soundgarden were charting in the top ten back then.
No Need to Argue was released only six months after Kurt Cobain died and only a few weeks before Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album. These two albums soundtracked just about every 13 and 14 year old birthday I attended over that next year. Maybe even longer.
We didn’t drink alcohol back then, we just stayed up as late as possible listening to music and talking about who was going to ‘get on’ with who.
Of course, it could be the early-teen sobriety, but I can’t begin to describe how etched into my brain this time is. Like when you smell a cologne you wore back in the day and you are freakily transported back to yesteryear.
That’s what these albums do for me. That’s what Dolores’ voice, in particular, does to me.
Even their follow up, To the Faithful Departed got me. It wasn’t as well or widely received as No Need to Argue. In fact, Q Magazine has ultimately ranked it in their 50 worst albums … ever. Over to you, Cher.
Oblivious to such criticism, I thrashed that album too. It was more up-tempo than No Need to Argue, taking the reincarnated-Zombie route for the most part. It was also closer to the indie rock music I had smugly graduated to at the time, so it worked on many levels.
I originally thought of the Cranberries like the musical training wheels en route to developing my alternative music chops during ‘that phase’ of high school.
I learned later that the Cranberries taught me differently, I was just too young to notice at that time.
As I got older (like, 16), I would listen to No Need to Argue at bedtime. Staying awake until it got to Zombie so the CD could be skipped to the next song. Like all Zombies, this one wasn’t really in the business of lulling one into a slumber.
Although it was the song that catapulted them to superstardom, Zombie was actually a major outlier on that album. It was Dreaming my Dreams, the Icicle Melts and Twenty One et al that gave the album its real spirit – and it was an understated one at that.
I ultimately learned to appreciate No Need to Argue – and the Cranberries – for the tenderness of the music and the beautiful, at times brutal, honestly of the(ir) lyrics. Helped along by Dolores’ perrrfect Irish rolling RRRRs.
Further cementing their real legacy was my adulthood rediscovery of Dreams and Linger, the two most famous songs from their first album. Arguably of all their albums.
These songs had always been there, just a skip and a jump away on a radio station or TV/movie soundtrack. The Cranberries were even Elton’s favourite band in Clueless, where he tries to serenade Cher with ‘turn away, turn aw-ay-ay’. It’s a good day when you get two Clueless references in.
That’s when the Cranberries doubled down and swept into the ‘subtle transformation’ category. It was a gradual progress and these not-forgotten gems just sealed the deal.
Dreams turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for a not-yet-taken US road trip, which I am suddenly realising may have possibly been ‘inspired’ by Boys on the Side.
Still, despite my usual indecisive nature, I have no doubt that Linger is not just my favourite song of the Cranberries, it’s one of my all-time ultimate jams.
This song went onto strike the most massive of chords with me. After what must have been hundreds of previous listens, it won me over at some point years ago. That’s not the normal trajectory of music.
That stringy opening, when it shifts from the gentle picking of a guitar into a giant bed of strings that I want to lie on all day. Luscious.
The lyrics. So damn honest yet so disarming in Dolores’ soft, almost nonchalant delivery. Yet the emotion is strong and ever present.
Things wouldn’t be so confused
And I wouldn’t feel so used
But you always really knew
I just want to be with you
You know I’m such a fool for you
You’ve got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it lingerrrrr?
I know it sounds like a stupid, even obvious thing to say, but it’s impossible to think of anyone else singing with such soft and clear conviction as Dolores. Those damn RRRRs are just too much perfect.
I’ve spent tonight listening to the Cranberries entire back catalogue while tinkering away at some work and writing this. It has been so easy and enjoyable to write.
That’s the thing about those pivotal moments. They really leave their mark.
Thank you Dolores, may you be dreaming your dreams, and may they be as beautiful as this song.