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Flashback Friday: Fire And Femininity of Dolores O’Riordan

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Dolores O’Riordan, the voice of The Cranberries and one of Ireland’s greatest musical exports, tragically passed away under currently unknown circumstances earlier this week.

In a 2014 incident with the police that The Guardian calls a “hypomanic episode” behavior she would claim to be the “Queen of Limerick” (her hometown in mid-west Ireland). I’ve never been to Limerick, but somehow I doubt she was exaggerating.

I’ve previously covered The Cranberries song “Zombie” and many of its international iterations in this series. While Zombie may be their most recognizable hit globally, they certainly were not a one hit wonder band. The debut album Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? hit the number one spot in Ireland and the UK when it was released in 1993 and peaked at number 18 on the US Billboard 200. The heartbreak anthem “Linger” and TV and film favorite “Dreams” would all go into global top 10 charts.

No Need To Argue, their second album released in 1994, was even more successful than their first. It would go five times platinum in Europe and seven times platinum in the US. In 2014, Rolling Stone named 1994 as the greatest year for mainstream alternative music with the album featured in their rankings.

O’Riordan and The Cranberries rose to fame at a critical time for women in rock. Raised as the youngest of nine in a Roman Catholic family among metal head brothers, Dolores considered herself a tomboy. You’ll be hard pressed to find a woman who listened to rock in the nineties that wouldn’t cite her as an inspiration for the way she combined femininity and fire.

Of course it wasn’t just her gender that attracted listeners, but the undeniable Irish character of her voice. In all of her songs, her thick brogue is unmistakable. Journalists would constantly compare her to another female Irish singer whose star was in decline at the time, Sinead O’Connor, as though rock could only handle ONE Irish woman at a time. Read Dan Weiss’ description in Stereogum:

When O’Connor sang a multi-tiered epic like “Troy,” her fancy-flicking brogue felt like it could power a colosseum with the barest of accompaniment. Even though she made two solo albums in her lifetime, O’Riordan never aspired to project anything like solitude; those albums basically sounded like the Cranberries. Her dialect was fiercely barricaded by the band. She may have been the star of “Dreams,” but so was she, and she, and her too. She knew she could multiply her phrases in harmony and clever aural sculpting, which turned relatively simple and round chord progressions like “Ode To My Family” into complex waterfalls of vocalization, and yet the jangling folk guitars buffering them were clearly armored by capital-R rock.

Here are some the best performances from O’Riordan throughout the years. It can be hard to find good videos of her in more recent live performances, because her health had suffered so it became difficult to recreate her earlier energy. But also, poor video quality.

Leave your favorites in the comments!

Dreams, Woodstock (1994)

Linger, Fleadh Festival (1994)

Zombie, SNL (1995)

Linger/Ode To My Family/Zombie, Tiny Desk Concert (2007)

 

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