Arts: Pop: The sour turns to sweet

THE CRANBERRIES SHEPHERD'S BUSH EMPIRE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
IN THE Cranberries' press, one catechismal fact stands out: unlike Oasis, unlike Blur even, the provincial Irish four-piece, led by Dolores O'Riordan, cracked the States. Forget O'Riordan's voice (a formidable instrument blighted by the tonal ambition of a car alarm) or the persistently clod-hopping "political" commentary (no Kosovo anthem yet, thankfully) - all sins are absolved by the balm of US success. Criticism, in other words, is redundant when the band's three albums thus far have notched up global sales of 28 million.

The eve of their new album, Bury the Hatchet, finds The Cranberries trying to re-create the circumstances that gave birth to "Linger", their sublime, lilting breakthrough hit which they've never come close to surpassing. Since a gruelling tour schedule led to their effective break-up three years ago, O'Riordan has had a baby and retreated, along with the rest of the band, to the group's home town, Limerick. It shows on Bury the Hatchet. Though they're far from rediscovering the alchemical touch that graced the Celt-pop of their 1992 debut album, Everybody's Doing It, So Why Can't We?, at least the dross of To the Faithful Departed, a cacophonous mess, is behind them.

The Shepherd's Bush Empire was an adroit choice, too. It was intimate enough to accommodate the new, more reflective material, and big enough (though barely) to house the strident rockers with which The Cranberries reached even the most insulated hospitality suites of the stadia they regularly played in the mid-Nineties. Sporting a blonde fringe and clad in black, O'Riordan looked like a militant Nolan sister, zipping to and fro in a splay-footed jig the entire night. She exuded an entirely natural stage presence, a compelling quality the rest of the band knew relieved them of any showmanship duties.

As ever, O'Riordan's distinctive vocal hitchkick provided a handy barometer for the quality of the songs. Its folky inflection finds a natural home in the group's more lyrical songs. "Promises", their latest single, offered a good example. Initially beguiling, O'Riordan somehow contrived to sound like a keening Tellytubby by its conclusion.

It's not as though she hasn't a crisp, tight band behind her. It's just that while dictating the performance, she also overshadowed them. "Linger" met with a rapturous reception, but even here O'Riordan sounded bored with her own melodic skill, barking at the crowd to "Sing it!".

"Saving Grace" or the elegant "Human Being" were far more intricate, satisfying efforts than the dunder-headed anti-Troubles dirge "Zombie" or the out-and-out rant "Delilah". She may have criticised the likely successors to the Cranberries' crown, the Corrs, for a lack of raunch, but it's obvious which songs the svelte sisters from Dundalk have learnt from.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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