First Night: Sublime sound fails to linger

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The Independent Online
The Cranberries

Shepherd's Bush Empire

London

IN THE Cranberries press, one catechismal fact stands out: unlike Oasis, unlike Blur, the provincial Irish four-piece, led by the dotty Dolores O'Riordan, cracked America. 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 apparently absolved by the balm of US success.

Criticism, in other words, is redundant when the band's three albums have notched up global sales of 28 million.

The eve of their new album, "Bury the Hatchet", finds trying to recreate 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 which 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.

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, which relinquished the band of any showmanship duties. As ever O'Riordan's distinctive vocal hitchkick provided a handy barometer for the quality of the songs. A folky inflection, its natural home is in the group's more lyrical songs. "Promises", their latest single and the show's opener, offered a good example. Initially beguiling, O'Riordan somehow contrived to sound like a keening Tellytubby by its conclusion.

It's not as if she hasn't a crisp, tight band behind her. It's just that while she dictated the performance, ' sparky indie rock is overshadowed by their lead singer. "Linger" met with a rapturous reception, but even here O'Riordan sounded bored with her own melodic skill.

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

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