If there is a successful Irish rock band as beleaguered as The Cranberries, then we have yet to make their acquaintance. The Limerick band arrived just over 25 years ago with a few delicate songs (some of which have stood the test of time – Linger and Dreams, in particular, continue to weave spells), but it took some years for the quartet to fully engage with their sudden, rapid rise to international success.
The initial road to victory was unsteady. Formed in 1989, within a year original vocalist Niall Quinn left, his position filled by slip-of-a-girl singer Dolores O'Riordan, who developed several of the band's early demos (including Linger and Dreams) into songs that seemed good enough to send to UK-based record companies. Such instincts proved correct – Island Records signed them, but complications quickly arose when the band fired their manager (and early producer of tracks for their debut album), Pearse Gilmore
New management in the experienced shape of Rough Trade's Geoff Travis followed, as did a new producer (the acclaimed Stephen Street), and by early 1993 the refurbished debut album arrived. Despite the sense of expectation, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? didn't set the world alight. Indeed, not much of anything happened.
Amid murmurs of varying states of bewilderment, not even sharp-witted music industry people knew what to do with a band that had some fine songs but little experience in the art of performing. Factor in a female singer who was so shy that she often faced the stage backdrop instead of the audience, and you had problems.
Before O'Riordan could do a dainty jig, The Cranberries were the most successful Irish band since U2.
Within a year, however, all was to change: in the US as support to (the then much better gamble) Suede, MTV put the videos for Linger and Dreams into, as they said back then, "heavy rotation". Before O'Riordan could do a dainty jig, The Cranberries were the most successful Irish band since U2. The level of achievement, she admits, came much too quickly.
“It would have been easier if we had had more experience with the actual music industry – we were very young and very naïve, sheltered. Fame was extraordinary, really.”
Outwardly, the band could do no wrong, but problems were brewing nonetheless. It seems you could take the band out of provincial Limerick but never the other way around.
“It was a very dramatic change from living in a country area outside Limerick to suddenly being dropped into cities such as London and New York. That was a huge leap from one life to another.”
For O’Riordan, the leap eventually became too wide to complete.
"For as long as I could, I held on to those years like I was gripping a rollercoaster ride." By the third album, To the Faithful Departed (1996), she says had to let go. "I got sick, had a meltdown – it was too much work that caused it."
We all know that every time we leave The Cranberries to do something else that the band itself is still there in the background
The on-hiatus approach the band has undertaken since then provided some relief from the pressures of what to them was a relentless treadmill of touring. Various solo projects were offered for public consumption, but indifference greeted all of them. Gradually, they realised that every road led back to The Cranberries.
"For the foreseeable future that's the plan," says guitarist Noel Hogan, adding that any conversations presently being had by the band members involve the forthcoming album, Something Else (a "Best Of" collection prettified by musical backing from the Irish Chamber Orchestra) and a further album.
“We all know that every time we leave The Cranberries to do something else that the band itself is still there in the background – I’ve never heard any member walk away to do something and say they’re finished with it. For most of our lives – I’m speaking for myself, obviously, but I’m sure the rest will agree – The Cranberries has been such a defining thing. We have a career from it, we make a living from it; it’s something that we know we’re very lucky to have. Most importantly, when we come back from wherever it was we were there’s a demand for us. A lot of bands go away, come back and nobody cares.”
It’s still stop-start, however, and even recently there was trouble in the house when, in October 2013, O’Riordan filed a High Court case against Hogan (for reasons not disclosed). Interestingly, in April 2015 the pair signed a publishing partnership with Warner/Chappell Music UK Publishing. Less than three months later, the High Court case was struck out. It’s all happy families now, then?
Dolores and I now talk practically every other day, and our friendship is probably healthier than it has been for a long time."
“We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, like many bands,” says Hogan casually. “Unfortunately for us, a lot of the time it’s a case of a lack of communication, and outside forces getting involved, telling one person one thing and another person something else. The more people are involved, the more phone calls there are, and by the time you get the story it’s not as accurate as it began. It gets messy, matters get muddied, tempers run high.
“When Dolores and I get to sit down at a table, across from each other, and talk things through, it’s like the issues never happened. We get on with it, and it’s very much like a brother and sister relationship. Dolores and I now talk practically every other day, and our friendship is probably healthier than it has been for a long time.”
Both Hogan and O'Riordan see Something Else as a stepping-stone or a stopgap between old and new material. An album of new material, he admits, is where their real interests lay.
“We have little pieces that need work done on them, so that’s definitely the next step forward. It’s great having such a weighty back catalogue, but what makes it really exciting is to keep on writing, to do better stuff than you’ve done before.”
O’Riordan is similarly enthused, but not at any price, which seems fair enough considering her previous experience at being on the top while feeling rock bottom. Lessons learned, and all of that.
“Hopefully, after this tour we’ll write new material, but at the same token I genuinely don’t expect to be as successful as we once were. The 1990s was our time for that, I think – we were hungry and on fire. Now, we’re older, we have kids, and I know we’ll never get those earlier moments back again. Not that I want them.”
- Something Else is released April 28th through BMG. The Cranberries play Waterfront Hall, Belfast, May 17th, and Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin, May 18th. Both shows are sold out