Combining the melodic jangle of post-Smiths indie guitar pop with the lilting, trance-inducing sonic textures of late-’80s dream pop and adding a slight Celtic tint, the Cranberries became one of the more successful groups to emerge from the pre-Britpop U.K. indie scene of the early ’90s. Led by vocalist , whose keening, powerful voice is the most distinctive element of the group’s sound, the group initially made little impact in the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until the lush ballad “Linger” became an American hit in 1993 that the band also achieved mass success in the U.K. Following the success of “Linger,” the Cranberries quickly became international stars, as both their 1993 debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, and its 1994 follow-up, No Need to Argue, sold millions of copies and produced a string of hit singles. By the time of their third album, 1996′s To the Faithful Departed, the group had added distorted guitars to its sonic palette and attempted to make more socially significant music, which resulted in a downturn in the band’s commercial fortunes.
Originally, the Cranberries were a band called the Cranberry Saw Us. Brothers Noel and Mike Hogan (guitar and bass, respectively) formed the band in Limerick, Ireland, with drummer Fergal Lawler in 1990. Following the departure of the group’s original singer, Niall, the trio placed an advertisement for a female singer. Dolores O’Riordan responded to the advertisement and auditioned by writing lyrics and melodies to some of the band’s existing demos. When she returned with a rough version of “Linger,” the group hired her on the spot. Shortly after she joined, the band recorded a demo tape that they sold in record stores throughout Ireland. After the original run of 300 copies sold out, the group truncated their name to the Cranberries and sent another demo tape, which featured early versions of both “Linger” and “Dreams,” to record companies throughout the U.K. The tape was made at Xeric Studios, which was run by Pearse Gilmore, who would later become their manager. At the time the tape was made, all of the members were still in their late teens.
The demo tape earned the attention of both the U.K. press and record industry, and there soon was a bidding war between major British record labels. Eventually, the group signed with Island Records. The Cranberries headed into the studio with Gilmore as their producer to record their first single, “Uncertain.” The title proved to be prophetic, as the band did indeed sound ill at ease on the single, leading to poor reviews in the press, in addition to tensions between the group and Gilmore. Before they were scheduled to record their debut in 1992, the Cranberries discovered that Gilmore had signed a secret deal with Island to improve his studios. The tensions within the band became so great they nearly broke up. Instead, the band severed all relations with Gilmore, hired Geoff Travis of Rough Trade as their new manager, and hired Stephen Street, who had previously worked with the Smiths, as their new producer.
The Cranberries’ debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, was released in the spring of 1993, followed by a single of “Dreams.” Neither the album or the single gained much attention, nor did a second single, “Linger.” In the summer and fall of 1993, the band toured the United States, opening for The The and Suede, respectively; frequently, the Cranberries were given a friendlier reception than either of the headliners. The strong live shows led to MTV putting “Linger” into heavy rotation. By the end of the year, the single was on its way to becoming a crossover hit. Eventually, the single reached number eight on the U.S. charts, while the album went double platinum. Everybody Else and “Linger” began to take off in Britain in early 1994; the album eventually peaked at number one during the summer.
O’Riordan married the band’s tour manager, Don Burton, in a much-publicized ceremony in July 1994. The marriage, as well as the group’s videos, emphasized the singer as the focal point of the band. O’Riordan’s position in the group continued to rise with the fall release of the group’s second album, No Need to Argue. Boasting a slightly harder, more streamlined sound, yet still produced by Stephen Street, the record debuted at number six on the U.S. charts and eventually outsold its predecessor; within a year it went triple platinum, spawning the number one modern rock hit “Zombie” and the number 11 “Ode to My Family.”
During the tour for No Need to Argue, rumors began to circulate that O’Riordan was going to leave the band to pursue a solo career, all of which the band vehemently denied. Nevertheless, the rumors persisted until the band began recording their third album with producer Bruce Fairbairn, who had previously worked with Aerosmith. The resulting album, To the Faithful Departed, was a tougher, more rock-oriented album. Upon its spring 1996 release, the album entered the charts at number six, but its first single, “Salvation,” failed to become a hit on par with “Zombie,” “Linger,” or “Ode to My Family.” Consequently, the album slipped down the charts relatively quickly and only went platinum, which was slightly disappointing in light of its two predecessors’ multi-platinum status.
During the fall of 1996, the group canceled their Australian and European tour, sparking another round of rumors of whether O’Riordan was about to launch a solo career. In 1999, the group released Bury the Hatchet, and in 2003, shortly after the release of a greatest-hits compilation, Stars: The Best of 1992-2002, the Cranberries officially declared that they were taking a break. This finally gave O’Riordan the time she needed to work on her long-talked-about solo album, and Are You Listening hit shelves in 2007. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine