ARTS / Show People: An unexpected source of success: The Cranberries

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The Independent Culture
'U2 AND Sinead O'Connor,' says Dolores O'Riordan with a sigh. 'I haven't a clue why we're compared to them. Apart from us all being Irish, we've nothing in common.' She should worry. Her band, the Cranberries, have sold a million copies of their first album. It's the most successful Irish debut ever, easily outdoing the first efforts of both U2 and Sinead. Nothing compares to the Cranberries.

It wasn't supposed to happen so quickly. When the quartet from Co Limerick released their album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, last March, it reached No 78 in the British charts and all concerned were happy enough. Over the summer, though, the record began to fly out of American record shops. In the autumn the Cranberries went over on a co-headlining tour with Suede.

The results were dramatic. The Cranberries sold three times as many albums as the great British hope. Suede graciously admitted defeat and went home. The Cranberries stayed until their album went platinum (a million sales). When they got back, they were awarded the freedom of the city of Limerick.

'A star, they were actually calling me that over in America,' says Dolores, who is 22. 'I thought they were taking the piss. I found it really strange because I'm from a family of nine where you have to fight to get attention.' Her sudden fame had its down side. 'It was great about the sizes of the audiences we were getting in America, but sometimes you feel like telling some of the men that you're not on stage to have your body looked at. There was this fella in Detroit and I was watching him, he was waiting for his chance and as soon as he got it he tried to put his hand up my leg. I mean, when I go to gigs I go to listen, not to touch the singer.'

Loosely described as an 'indie' band, the Cranberries certainly have their fair share of jingly-jangly guitars and melancholy lyrics, but there are also lush melodies, string sections and slow acoustic bits. It all adds up to a sound which is impossible to mistake and hard to resist. The lyrics, all written by Dolores, are highly personal and vulnerable, but nevertheless display a maturity beyond her years. 'I write about what is getting to me at the time,' she says, 'about the things you need to talk about, but which would sound silly if you sat down and told them to your friend. I only write for myself, to get my emotions out. It's self-therapeutic.'

Dolores came to rock music along a route that is more common in America than Ireland: the church. 'My parents were in the local church choir and I used to go along and sing and play the organ at all the weddings and christenings. I think at about 16 or 17 you either go against your background or go with it. I stayed with it because I personally met some nice people and I love church music; I really wouldn't have thought of music as a career if it hadn't been for the Catholic Church, but I wasn't allowed to join a rock'n'roll band until I had finished school.'

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, brothers Noel and Mike Hogan (guitars and bass respectively) and Fergal Lawler (drums) had a band called The Cranberry Saw Us (you have to say it quickly). They had just dispensed with their lead singer because their music was 'too feminine' for him. They placed an ad in a local paper and Dolores got her parents' permission to audition. The band were 'blown away' by her voice.

Things then went desperately wrong for the Cranberries. Their first single, 'Nothing Left at All', was hailed as a masterpiece by the British music papers. 'No band since the Smiths have sounded so spectacularly vulnerable,' said one. 'They are the future.' 'Dolores has the best high notes outside La Scala,' said another. When the second single didn't fulfil expectations, they were put down quicker than they had been picked up.

It was Geoff Travis, the man who signed the Smiths to Rough Trade, who stepped in to sort them out and become their manager. The band were soon signed to Island Records and the Smiths' old producer, Stephen Street, was brought in to work on their album. Travis kept the band well away from the excitable music press and the album had a no-fuss release and an equally no-fuss response, until America.

Unlike some bands you could mention, the Cranberries have never made a big deal of where they came from. Some people still assume they are an American band. 'I like to think that the success so far has happened because of the songs,' O'Riordan says. 'But I'm glad now that we'll be able to slip things in about our Irishness. Two of our new songs, 'Yeats's Grave' and 'So Cold in Ireland', would be good examples of that. Maybe that's because I got a bit homesick when I was in America.'

On the back of their phenomenal American success, their album is being promoted afresh in Britain and the single that went top 20 in America, 'Linger', is being released at the end of the month. Dolores finds it 'amusing' that people who ignored the band when the album first came out are now hastily revising their opinion, particularly in the light of what they did to Suede. 'Some people were really nice and genuine, while others dismissed us and dismissed us very rudely, but that doesn't really matter now.'

Those who saw the Cranberries in Britain first time around will remember a band who almost apologised for being on stage. Dolores used to sing with her back half-turned to the audience and would never talk between songs. The American experience has changed them utterly. 'We're more mature now and a lot more confident. I enjoy it much more now and we're not afraid to really rock it out either. You wouldn't know us.'

The Cranberries are expected to do a short British tour in February. Their album is on Island (LP, CD, tape).

(Photographs omitted)