Usually it's the concert audience you blame for ruining a delicate song. They roar, throw beer, heckle the band, chatter through anything remotely subtle. But the crowd at the Birmingham NEC were as good as gold, swaying reverently and applauding just loud enough. It was the chanteuse herself who spoilt it. As the opening chords of "Linger" danced across the hall, Dolores O'Riordan proceeded to let out, not her characteristic dainty choirgirl vocals, but a series of grunts and groans worthy of Monica Seles. By the chorus, she was commanding the fans to "Sing it!" and then, sounding like a tetchy school marm, "SING IT!" Maybe she couldn't be bothered to sing it herself.
O'Riordan has more cause to be tired than most. The Cranberries have done what every UK band, from Elastica to Blur, has failed to do and broken the all-important American market. The Americans clasped Dolores to their bosom as Sinead O'Connor Lite - soaring Irish vocals, without the politics. She is now one of the richest women in the UK. That she has become a star in America on the basis of her perceived Irish innocence has crudely affected her stage performance. The Irish lilt to her voice is now a nervous tic. And there's something about being natural and then ordering people to SING! that doesn't sit well together.
The Cranberries' first album, Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We? was a work of near-perfect mystic-dream pop. Their post-fame release, No Need to Argue, is the musically dumpier "issue" record that spawned the anti-troubles hit "Zombie", with its classic refrain: "With their tanks and their guns and their guns and their bombs..." The new songs they preview seem to be moving further in the same direction. The first is called either "Salvation" or "Starvation" - it's hard to tell. "Awww, starvation is here," wails Dolores, sounding like Audrey Hepburn in the first half of My Fair Lady.
The best Cranberries songs are the ones that sound like soundtracks to scenes in TV movies: "You're So Pretty the Way You Are", as a bulimic locks herself in the bathroom to vomit; "Never Leave", as a once loving family abandons a dog they bought for Christmas.
For the first minute, it looks like "Zombie", is going to save the day. Fergal Lawler's drumming is so good it seems almost to have its own melody. Mike Hogan's bass sets a voodooesque mood of expectancy, Noel Hogan's exquisite guitar gives the song more depth and shading than it ever had on record... until Dolores comes on with her tanks and her guns and her guns and her bombs.
In an hour and three quarters the rest of the band have not had one spotlight and are never introduced. For such a talented group of musicians, they deserve better. The only way out of the trap is to take the plunge and dump the singer.
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