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Cover Story: The Cranberries

| February 29, 2012

She’s not sure exactly when it happened. But there was a time when flutter-throated Celtic thrush Dolores O’Riordan really lost her way, spiritually. And it had everything to do with the skyrocketing popularity of her band, The Cranberries, and its early international hits like “Dreams,” “Linger,” and “Zombie” — she was chugging at such a breakneck speed on the fast track, she barely noticed herself derailing. Or putting her group on hold for a solo career back in 2003. And how she got back on track again — and rediscovered her soul, both literally and figuratively — has everything to do with Roses (Cooking Vinyl/Downtown), the surprise new Stephen Street-helmed comeback from her recently reformed Cranberries.

Appearing: May 16th at Riviera Theatre.

On his HBO show “Real Time,” host Bill Maher just pointed how twisted and commercial the American Dream had become. As a kid, he said, his father would drive the family through wealthy neighborhoods, just to look at the posh, pricey houses. But never once did he point to them as the ultimate achievement in life, as something to be coveted by the average hard worker — the American Dream back then simply revolved around being comfortable, able to put a roof over your family’s head, and feed and protect them. Now, it’s warped into absurdly entitled imaginings of wealth and notoriety; teachers quiz students on what they want to be when they grow up, and they often reply “Famous.”

Any parent who would drive past mansions and pass them off as entertainment, as aesthetic architectural works to be enjoyed at a distance? “Now that’s a good dad, a great spirit, a great father,” says O’Riordan, a mother of three, stepmother of one with her husband Don Burton. “Because I’m the same way to my children. I happen to be doing very well in my life, but I come from a very poor background. My mother had to take the neighbors’ kids and babysit them because she didn’t want to leave us, so there were always about 30 kids at the house. And once we got to a certain age, then she went out to work in factories, and she always worked so hard. So me, becoming successful with the band and making a bit of cash and going from one extreme to another, I had a bit of an identity crisis. Like, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do with all this money?'”

Ironic, since O’Riordan wasn’t even part of brothers Mike (bass) and Noel (guitar) Hogan’s original band/concept with drummer Fergal Lawler: The Cranberry Saw Us in their hometown of Limerick — Niall Quinn was their late-’80s frontman. When Quinn quit, the trio advertised for a female vocalist instead, and lucked out with O’Riordan, who immediately proved her worth by adding a rough-mix melody line to what would soon define the group, their breakthrough smash “Linger.” Once MTV got behind The Cranberries’ ’93 debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, the rest (four more albums and a 2002 greatest-hits package) was chart-topping, multi-platinum history. And therein hangs the tortured tale.

As a photogenic female, O’Riordan recalls, “Suddenly I found myself surrounded by all these designer-label type people, and they’d go ‘Who’s your bag by? Is it Prada? Guccci? Versace?’ And I’d be like, ‘Uhh, actually it’s from a cheap little shop in Ireland!’ And I remember I got to the point where I was feeling like I’d better get a designer bag, because I wasn’t feeling very good about myself. Because you’ve got pressure: chicks would come up and go, ‘Who made your shoes? What do you weigh? What size are you?’ And I just completely lost myself. I found that success was great, but it brought an awful lot of crap and pressure with it, and I got a bit messed up.” Finally, she sighs, “I got to the point where I knew that I was happier before the success. I was happier when I was poor — I had crappy boots, but I ate properly, I slept well, and I liked myself.”

O’Riordan arrived at a solution, and it was drastic. “I went off to the forest,” she says. “I disappeared into the forest in Canada and I had a baby. And I do remember hitting a brick wall and being very suicidal before I had a baby — I remember telling my mom that I just didn’t want to live. I hated it. I hated people following me, I hated cameras, and I wanted to go back, I wanted to be nobody again. And you don’t really expect that. You kind of think that if your band does well, you’ll love it. But it’s really weird, not being able to just fit in, not being able to walk outside your house without people noticing.” She sighs. “But that’s the added irony: be careful what you wish for, ’cause you might just get it.”

The singer fell so deeply in love with her log cabin in the Ontario wilderness (where she began sculpting her two solo sets, 2007’s Are You Listening? and No Baggage in 2009) that she and her clan have permanently relocated there from their old home in Dublin. “Because I’d ended up in such a shallow place when the band got big, I realized that I had to go back, I had to go back at all costs,” she says of her return to a simpler existence. “Even if it meant giving up the band and going off to find out who I was before I became this trainwreck. So then I had kids, and that really brought it all back to me — the instincts suddenly are there with your baby, and you’re breast-feeding and that’s it. Nothing else matters. It was so nice to get back to that animal instinct, and who cares what you’re wearing then? Who’s actually gonna look down at your clothes and say ‘What label?’ Having kids was brilliant, just to bring me back to what life is all about.”

And O’Riordan — now a wise, lived-to-tell 40 — unleashes many of her hard-won philosophies throughout Roses, from the carpe diem insistence of the chiming lead single “Tomorrow” (“Tomorrow could be too late/If only you had faith” she chirrups in her brassy brogue) to humble pleas for sanity (“Losing My Mind”), grace (“Fire & Soul”), and daily guidance (“Show Me The Way”). And she bounds inquisitively into the metaphysical, as well, on the neo-psychedelic dream study “Astral Projections.” The ebullient anthems ring like a cathedral bell (as producer Street oversaw much of The Cranberries’ early material). But O’Riordan’s thoughtful, carefully considered lyrics also inspire discussion, further analysis, maybe even the occasional argument. But this celebratory reunion would not have been possible with her reflective time away, a growing experience that helped the quartet grow, too.

For a long time, there was no real contact between the Hogans and their estranged frontwoman — they’d simply folded up shop and moved on with their lives, personally and professionally. Noel made solo records. Mike opened his own restaurant in Limerick. Fergal hired on with several other Irish acts. But in 2008, when O’Riordan was awarded an Honorary Patronage from Dublin’s Trinity College Philosophical Society, she rang up the Hogans, spur of the moment, to back her for some songs at the ceremony. A year later, as No Baggage was hitting shelves, her son had his confirmation, and she again invited the Hogans and Lawler to join in the festivities. The band members arrived with their wives and 11 kids in tow. A whole generation had sprouted since The Cranberries were last together, O’Riordan noted to herself. “I was thinking ‘My God! Time is moving on! And we are not getting any younger!’ So we all talked about it, had a few jars, and finally said ‘Let’s do it! Let’s do a reunion!'”

— Tom Lanham

For the full feature, check the IE digital edition or grab a copy of the March issue free throughout Chicagoland.

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  1. Black Irish says:

    Somehow, it’s difficult to relate to someone whose problems include “too much cash” in their lives. Give me a break, Dolores.

  2. Relores D'Oriordan says:

    So you believe that money buys happiness?

  3. John Browning says:

    I am grateful they are back. This is a band that everyone liked at one time. And that drummer is just great, not to mention the amazing vocals.