Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Cranberries rock on

album review

The Irish foursome return to the spotlight with Roses

Album: Roses
Band: The Cranberries

If you had access to an international music channel in the ‘90s, then you couldn’t possibly have escaped the tunes of one of Ireland’s most successful musical exports: The Cranberries. Formed in 1989, the group gained international recognition following the release of their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993). The foursome from Limerick found a place on the global airwaves with their lilted pop rock and celtic vibes. They released singles ranging from mellow dream pop to alternative rock anthems, which ensured that the band remained a chart staple throughout the decade. The group had a sound unmistakeably its own, and the vocal stylings of singer and songwriter Dolores O’Riordan made her one of the most distinctive front women of the era.

But five studio albums later, the group decided to take a hiatus; 2003 saw The Cranberries parting ways to pursue other projects. O’Riordan’s solo career produced two middling albums; the other members also tried their hands at different musical projects, but none came even marginally close to the levels of success of the band that made them famous. Then in 2009, the mandatory reunion inevitably followed, and the group soon returned to the studio to work on their comeback album.

Their efforts have now resulted in their sixth record, Roses, which comes more than ten years after its predecessor, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (2001), and even a decade later, The Cranberries’ sound is still as distinctive as ever. Rejoining forces with producer Stephen Street, who collaborated with the band on three of their previous albums, the band picks up exactly where they left off. The new record shows that The Cranberries have retained their ability to come up with pretty melodies and haven’t lost their tendency to take a word or phrase and then repeat it over and over again. What seems to be missing, though, is both the passion and the immediacy of their earlier work.

Opting to go down the well travelled road of smooth pop with a Gaelic twist, the band has put together eleven songs that mostly try to replicate the dream pop sound they were initially known for and rarely venture into the harder, more intense alt rock territory. Many of the songs, including ‘Waiting in Walthamstow’, ‘So Good’, and title track ‘Roses’, are understated and sparse. While most of the melodies on the album are sufficiently pleasant - the opening track ‘Conduct’ offers perhaps the best tune of the set, while ‘Schizophrenic Playboy’ is the only song that shows any signs of urgency - the album lacks the power and conviction of some of their previous work, and none of the tunes are different or special enough to actually stand out and demand immediate attention from the listener.

Most of the tracks take a few listens to make an impact. At best, the songs are well constructed and the melodies are sublime; at worst, the efforts are not so much ethereal as snooze inducing. Lyrically, the album mostly focuses on standard musings on life and relationships. Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals are still strong and distinct, and the orchestration provides a lush soundscape for her voice. Yet there is simply nothing here that is nearly as memorable as ‘Linger’ or ‘Zombie’. The album’s biggest flaw seems to be its complacency. The Cranberries have made no effort to develop their sound and seem to be sleepwalking through their standard musical template, churning out methodical composites of their previous material, which makes the end result tired and predictable. And there is no indication anywhere that this album was made because the group had something new or interesting to offer.

On the whole, Roses sees the return of a mellower version of the band and the sound is still distinctive, but the album lacks ambition and doesn’t display any progression or attempts to do something different. The Cranberries can still make nice melodies but they seem to be stuck in the past, unwilling (or perhaps unable) to update their signature sound and make it more interesting or current. It all sounds familiar, and while it does evoke a sense of nostalgia, it simply lacks the strength to be enduring. If you haven’t heard of The Cranberries before, then Roses probably won’t be the best introduction to their music; you’d be better served listening to one of their earlier albums or a singles/hits compilation (like Stars: The Best of 1992-2002) instead. Those who are already familiar with the group, and preferred the more mellow pop moments of their previous records over their more biting songs, might find the band’s new offering appealing; if you are looking for a sharp and fiery rock oriented record, however, then you might want to give this album a pass.

Highlights:Conduct’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Schizophrenic Playboy

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 18th March, 2012

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