The Cranberries :
Back On Track

The Cranberries (from left to right) Noel Hogan, Dolores O'Riordan, Michael Hogan and Fergal Lawlor.

By Frank Shouldice, Contributor
June / July 2002

Just like the old days. A new album (Wake Up and Smell the Coffee) from The Cranberries and the band are back on the road. May is pencilled in for the North American stretch of a world tour, beginning in Montreal and wrapping up in Miami before moving on to Mexico.

Just like the old days.

Almost.

While the tour will take a mammoth 18 months it’s a far cry from the crazy schedule that nearly broke the band in two. This time they’ll go on the road for five or six weeks at a time, then head home to recharge for a couple of weeks. The mayhem is kinder, gentler. A lifestyle for rock stars settling down to family life.

Besides, they’ve already done their share of world tours. The band formed in Limerick in 1990 — originally calling themselves The Cranberry Saw Us — but within three years U.S. sales of their debut album (Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We?) passed the million mark.

Their calling card was a winning single “Linger,” written and delivered with panache by vocalist Dolores O’Riordan. Backed by guitarist Noel Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler the group produced a store of catchy melodies driven by solid, heavy rhythm. But it was O’Riordan’s voice that defined their sound and her raw energy as a performer that launched The Cranberries around the globe.

In high-energy performances the sheer strength of Dolores O’Riordan’s personality reduced the rest of the band to backing musicians. She enlivened the audience from the front while the others blasted anonymously from backstage. When the singer soared, she took the band with them; when she failed, the show went south.

Despite a manic schedule that took them around the world three times in three years they managed to follow up with No Need to Argue and To the Faithful Departed. The quality didn’t quite match their debut but with a growing fan base each new album outsold everything that went before, clocking up a total of 30 million sales.

However, the pressure took its toll in 1996. Midway through yet another worldwide tour the Limerick band was stretched to breaking point. “It was the worst time of my life,” recalls Dolores. “I was underweight, drinking too much and very depressed. We were spending all our time living in tour buses and hotel rooms and this had been going on for four years. Then after just finishing one world tour, we were in the studio to record another album and then back out on another one-and-a-half-year world tour. I was just so stressed out it made me sick.

“I thought about taking sleeping pills but I was just so freaked out by those stories about Elvis Presley and sleeping pills that I couldn’t,” she says. “So I drank instead. I’d come off stage and have a few glasses of wine and then a half bottle of port. All my drinking was done on the quiet because I had no interest in socializing or clubbing. I had given up eating because I wasn’t interested and just drank coffee and smoked. I was down to six-and-a-half-stone, not because I was anorexic or anything, but because I wasn’t eating.”

Naturally her emaciated condition fuelled reports of anexoria and the singer began to feel the downside of stardom. “There were things like I’d have photographers following me around the supermarket,” she exclaims, relating how the paparazzi even trailed the singer at her grandmother’s funeral.

The band called a halt and returned home, possibly for good.

“Everybody had had enough but nobody was actually willing to say, `It’s over,'” said Noel Hogan. “For about seven months we didn’t see each other. I almost forgot about the band. Then I began doing things on the guitar and wondering what would this sound like with the others playing.”

Their time-out brought other changes — marriage and children. For Dolores, the birth of son Taylor brought a new perspective so when the band decided to go again, it was on their own terms. “It was a case of getting over the past and moving on,” says Dolores, who has since given birth to daughter Molly.

Critical response to their fourth album – Bury the Hatchet – was lukewarm. Rock music needs an edge and if Dolores is now relaxed the question remains what sort of bite happier Cranberries can produce. Their new album, featuring the hit single “Analyse,” marks a return to form without reaching the heights of their initial promise. This year’s tour will see if the Cranberries are still a world force.

It’s good to see them back but these are indeed changed times. So when drummer Fergal Lawler is asked about Wake Up and Smell the Coffee we shouldn’t be too surprised by his explanation. “It’s a realization,” he says. “Most of the band has a family now and is married with kids and stuff. They bring so much joy into your life and open your eyes to a different side of life. It’s like, I’ve finally woken up and smelled the coffee. It’s hit me. This is what it’s all about.” ♦

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