The Bristish newspaper The Independent has published their review of Dolores O’Riordan’s solo album, Are You Listening?.
Experience counts as Cranberries’ Dolores goes solo
Enjoyment > Music > Features CHRIS MUGAN
Published: 04 May 2007
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article2509097.ece
Experience counts as Cranberries’ Dolores goes solo
The Cranberries’ vocalist is recording again after her maternity leave. Now solo, Dolores O’Riordan talks to Chris Mugan
Showcase gigs are usually uncomfortable, anodyne a airs, where a new signing performs for a record label’s sta and invitees. The cool reception and polite applause can make for a dispiriting start to a solo career. Dolores O’Riordan doesn’t let this get to her. The former lead singer of The Cranberries may only be performing in the basement of a private members’ club, but she punches the air as if reaching out to the furthest reaches of a vast arena. As the former singer of one of Ireland’s biggest cultural exports, adjusting to more intimate venues is going to take some time. At least she is enjoying performing again, after her old band stuttered to a close.
Next day, the star from Limerick looks just as fresh-faced as we chat about the gig in a north London o ce complex. She laughs when I mention the eye-popping energy of drummer Graham Hopkins, formerly of Northern Ireland’s explosive rock outfit Therapy?. “He broke six sticks that night, you know,” she says proudly, in a brogue that betrays her roots.
The vocalist is just as proud of the rest of her new band. “It’s a relief because I do want to tour and you need to have that energy and bond, so it’s all falling into place. Especially because this record is not a stylised or manufactured thing, it’s about the songs.”
As if to emphasis the point, she is dressed in black with a studded belt that would suit fellow Irish legend Phil Lynott. Despite the rock look, O’Riordan still exudes the maternal glow of a mother of three. She was last in the news in 2004 for being unsuccessfully sued by a former nanny, though it is more life- changing events that inform new album Are You Listening?. Death and new life are the two poles between which she has oscillated over a four-year stretch.
“I was doing it as therapy,” O’Riordan explains about the personal nature of her songwriting, and the time it took to release her first solo record. “I wanted to switch o and be a human being, so I escaped from the industry and the whole entertainment side of things. For 14 or 15 years I’d always felt under pressure, because there was always another album to come, and another album then.”
The Cranberries formed in Limerick in 1990, with 19-year-old O’Riordan imposing herself as the band’s precocious lyricist. Indeed, her calling card was the words to what became one of their biggest hits, “Linger”. Their debut album came out three years later and after a faltering start propelled them to fame on both sides of the Atlantic. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? was ignored in the US until The Cranberries toured there and got on MTV, while it took 12 months for “Linger” to become a UK hit.
Their rise continued with their second album No Need To Argue and its histrionic smash hit “Zombie”. Throughout this time, the band toured ceaselessly and racked up sales across the world. Such a focused work ethic stood them in good stead as their output declined in quality and the three albums that followed saw ever-decreasing sales. A sound now aimed at the arenas they played failed to win critical plaudits or new fans, leaving them with such consolations as the minor hit “Promises” in 1999 and a best international sales award in Taiwan. Fittingly for such constant giggers, their swan song was support slots with the Stones and AC/DC.
Almost since The Cranberries achieved success in the Nineties, rumours have abounded that O’Riordan would go solo. “People were always saying that,” O’Riordan complains. “I wanted to fulfil the journey with [the band], not just jump ship when we had the success. By going through the highs and lows, you learn from your mistakes.”
Stars, The Cranberries’ greatest hits set, was a full stop for the band, though before then its members knew the end was nigh, especially as they began to raise families. “There were a lot of things happening in the background, a lot of sick kids. We had one child in an incubator for three months and the same one had leukaemia,” O’Riordan says, careful to protect identities. “One of the guys was coming from hospital to the stage for a year and a half. Another guy got glaucoma, so there was so much illness.”
Only now can O’Riordan admit the toll that success took on her. When she auditioned for the band in 1990, this youngest of seven siblings still lived with her parents. As The Cranberries achieved success in the US, their singer became infamous for a haughty manner and elfin size, which she reveals was due to an eating disorder. She admits to having gone through therapy early in her career after a nervous breakdown in 1994.
“I was 90 pounds in weight, not sleeping, not eating and having a lot of panic attacks. I didn’t know what was happening; you don’t when you’re cracking up, and I couldn’t go home. I didn’t want to go back there with my tail between my legs; I was too proud. Then I went to see a really great psychoanalyst. He saw a lot of entertainers. I needed to get away and find myself. So I went o to the forest for a few months and learnt how to relax. I smelt a flower for the first time in five years and started crying because I realised I’d forgotten about life.”
O’Riordan uses the word “human” a lot, as if to stress that being human is more than simply being a member of a species, it is a state of mind. Her lyrics, too, are full of self-help jargon, whether it is being unable to “relate to you”, or learning to “accept things”.
In 2003,O’Riordan’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer and given eight months to live. That inspired “Black Widow”, one of the earliest songs to be written for this album. The singer took time out with her Canadian husband to support his family, putting her kids into school there. “She came round a lot, so that song was about watching her,” O’Riordan remembers. “You don’t know what cancer is like until you go through it with someone, starting on the inside and eating its way to the surface.”
If she has taken one lesson from her time with The Cranberries, it has been not to take herself too seriously. “It’s not about being perfect. If I make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. When I was younger, I’d be so depressed. I’d sit for hours in my dressing room and couldn’t move on in my head. In my twenties, I thought I knew so much about the world, but when I hit 30 I made so many boo-boos I realised I never knew it all. It’s peculiar when you’re young to have everyone looking at you; you get paranoid and self-conscious. I’d stay in my room doing six hours of yoga.”
She admits to behaving in an arrogant manner. “If you’re with yourself all the time and not meeting anyone or experiencing anyone, you can’t evolve. You get up on stage and get this attention that isn’t natural. I lacked normality and relationships. I had no friends for four or five years, while they all went to college.”
This explains the unevenness of some of her songwriting with The Cranberries, when she would churn out such desperate polemics as “Bosnia” (”We live in our secure surroundings/ And people die out there”). O’Riordan rolls her eyes at the memory. “Taking four years o was such a good idea, because you experience so much. When you try to write an album in a year and you’re living in a tour bus, you can only write about being famous or being stuck in a hotel room.”
What immediately strikes you about Are You Listening? is how personal the record is. “When you go through experiences, whether they are really dark or beautiful, they give you inspiration, but it’s just life, isn’t it? There were no boundaries because I was representing myself and I felt I could really spit things out without inhibitions. If you have pain and issues, once you get them out of your system, every time you perform you feel better. You know you’re not the only one, because everyone else feels it. You become human again.”
Another part of the learning process has been the varied collaborations since she left The Cranberries. O’Riordan has worked with the German dance pioneers Jam & Spoon, Italy’s famed crooner Zucchero and on the soundtrack for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. She even had a cameo as a wedding singer in the Adam Sandler vehicle Click.
But it was working with David Lynch’s favourite composer Angelo Badalamenti that had the most impact. “You learn something from all these people, like with Jam & Spoon I was doing a more soulful style, but I contacted Angelo direct. I loved Twin Peaks, and I love that darker music. I realised how much I could do on my own, when he’d send me music and I would lay down vocals at home.”
O’Riordan nursed her youngest girl Dakota on the set of Click, after a period of inactivity to raise the child and ensure that her other children did not feel left out. When she returned home, she wrote her song for Dakota, the first single “Ordinary Day”, and set about writing in earnest. She’s married to the former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton, so forming a band was simplicity itself. The most surprising thing about the album, especially after the lilting melancholy of “Ordinary Day”, is its rocky extremes, notably the super-heavy, Metallica-style power chords on “In the Garden” and the venomous “Loser”.
It is less of a shock when you learn that alongside Therapy?’s Hopkins, there is the bassist Marco Mendoza, who has played with Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, while Toronto-based Steve Demarchi played guitar for The Cranberries. Yet O’Riordan had not planned on a rock sound. She mentions the song “Letting Go”, again about her mother-in-law, and which was leaked.
“When I started out recording this album, I wrote two songs that didn’t make it on to the record. ‘Letting Go’ had this funeral march thing, and ‘Without You’ was about missing my own family. They were both soft, piano-driven songs, so I thought this album was going to be nice and ethereal, but then I wrote ‘Black Widow’ and I started yelling. I realised I needed drums to take it to the next level, so it all kind of unfolded from there. I didn’t know what kind of music it was, because I don’t have that much knowledge.”
Another track, “Angel Fire”, reminds us of O’Riordan’s spiritual side. She was brought up Catholic and still has fond memories of the former Pope, John Paul II. She is a regular performer at the Vatican’s Christmas concerts, where she premiered the song last year. “I’m Christian in lots of ways, but not conventional. A lot of the stu I learnt, I take with me today – that we should let each other be ourselves. I was chu ed to see the inside [of the Vatican] and I met Il Papa, who was lovely, very saintly. I was mad about him. I thought he really cared for the poor and he loved to meet the people. I saw him when he came to Limerick, when I was a kid. So it was pretty mindblowing to take my mum out to meet him.”
Despite the involvement of the mega-producer Youth on the single and “Apple of My Eye”, recording Are You Listening? has been a relatively stripped-down a air. The band would fly in to either Toronto or Dublin, where her children go to school, and lay down up to six songs in a two-day session. “They were really great players and it was great that we didn’t have the pressure of a major studio,” O’Riordan enthuses. “Sometimes you draw a mental blank in that situation, which you don’t have in a little room.”
O’Riordan has rediscovered her magic in homely surroundings. With a band she trusts and a healthy work-life balance, she is unlikely to consider a Cranberries reunion in the short term. Indeed, the solo artist jokingly points out that 2010 would mark her old group’s 20th anniversary.
Relations between them remain cordial, though, with o ers of guitars for her forthcoming tour. Not that she needs their help – O’Riordan has found that she gets further when she travels light.
‘Ordinary Day’ is out now on Sanctuary; ‘Are You Listening?’ is released on Monday.