Listen

The Cranberries' Final Album Celebrates The New Beginning Dolores O'Riordan Wanted

Apr 23, 2019
Originally published on April 25, 2019 9:14 am

Rock fans fell in love with The Cranberries in the early '90s, thanks, in large part, to the haunting, Celtic-inspired voice of the Irish rock band's lead singer, Dolores O'Riordan. The Cranberries, made up of O'Riordan on lead vocal, guitarist Noel Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler on drums, created an intoxicating juxtaposition of grunge and alternative pop, with O'Riordan's lilting lyrics searing through right in. Between her measured vocal power, her honest, vulnerable songwriting and her Irish accent peaking through every syllable sung, O'Riordan helped The Cranberries stand out.

O'Riordan died suddenly in January 2018 at 46 years old and left behind the vocal tracks to what was intended to be the band's latest album. Now, O'Riordan's bandmates have decided to complete that album, In The End — the last album the band will release — in her memory. The Cranberries' In The End is due out on Friday.

Noel Hogan still remembers the day O'Riordan auditioned to be in the band. The guys were looking for a new singer at the time and O'Riordan came in a timid teenager. "She was so small and quiet," Hogan says. "Then she opened her mouth and this amazing voice, this huge voice came out for the size of her."

Hogan knew immediately that she was who they were looking for. The Cranberries' debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? was released in 1993, propelled by the smash hit "Linger," written by O'Riordan and Hogan. The band rocketed into worldwide stardom, releasing four more albums and solidifying its success with songs like "Zombie" before taking a hiatus in 2004.

In June 2017, O'Riordan and Hogan started emailing album ideas and demos back and forth to each other. O'Riordan had been very open about her struggles with mental health and addiction, which would affect the band at times, but they wanted to make a new album. Hogan says that when they were emailing those demos, she was in a good place. They started laying down her demos.

Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries performs at L'Olympia May 2017 in Paris. According to Cranberries member Noel Hogan, he and O'Riordan started emailing album ideas in June 2017.
David Wolff-Patrick / Redferns/Getty Images

"All of that was kind of behind her," Hogan says. "She's kind of found a way to cope with the mental health thing. That's why she wanted to write so much. That's what she kept saying, 'I have so much to say, I just need the music to put it to.' "

Hogan says O'Riordan's apparent stability is what made her death even more tragic and devastating. (Officials ruled O'Riordan's cause of death to be accidental drowning due to alcohol intoxication.) But after a period of mourning, the remaining band members remembered they still had O'Riordan's demos. As Hogan remembers, they finally had the courage to start listening to them again in late February and, with her family's permission, started recording in April. "We spoke to her family and said, 'Look, how do you feel about us finishing the album?' And they were really supportive," Lawler says. "They were delighted, actually. They gave us their blessing."

Hogan says, in a sense, they were used to O'Riordan not being in the studio when they recorded — "Dolores hated hanging around the studio once we worked on our parts" — but, of course, this time was different.

"It wasn't that long after Dolores had passed away," he explains. "So you had the emotions that were there: Very confused, 'Should I be doing this, should I not?' Every day you go in, you put on your headphones and there's Dolores, singing at you."

The group also agreed that if they ever felt uncomfortable about making the album, they would stop production. After five months of work, the resulting album, In The End, is 11 songs of her legacy. Lyrically, you don't hear much of O'Riordan, but her vocals are so powerful, it feels like she's present throughout each song.

The music of the album touches on many themes — abuse, love and expectations — but to Hogan and Lawler, the most important part of the project is that it represents the new beginning O'Riordan wanted for herself.

"A lot of the songs, when people listen to them, they're going to hear a lot of subject matter that's about things ending and things being over," Hogan says. "That's what she's referring to — that point in her life where things had been not so great. She felt that was behind her, and this was a new chapter."

Vince Pearson edited this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the early 1990s, Americans were captivated by a young Irish singer.

NOEL HOGAN: She was so small and kind of very quiet. And then she opened her mouth and this amazing voice - this huge, huge voice came out. I mean, everybody just stopped in their tracks, looking, going - where did that come from?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ZOMBIE")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) In your head, in your head. Zombie, zombie, zombie. What's in your head...

MARTIN: That's lead guitarist for The Cranberries, Noel Hogan, remembering the day that Dolores O'Riordan auditioned to become the band's new lead singer. Within a couple of years, O'Riordan and The Cranberries would become a massive international success. The band cut several albums, then drifted apart. And recently, they had gotten back together. They were writing songs for a new record last year when O'Riordan was found dead in a hotel bathtub. A coroner called her death accidental drowning due to alcohol intoxication.

O'Riordan didn't live to complete this new album, but she did leave the raw materials for it - demos of her singing the new songs. So the band put them to music, and they're now releasing what they say will be the last Cranberries album. I talked with The Cranberries' drummer, Fergal Lawler, and guitarist Noel Hogan, recently. And Hogan told me that, months before O'Riordan's death, she had seemed like she was in a really good place.

HOGAN: She'd be very open about all the problems in her life. You know, she had the bipolar problem. And she had been recently divorced. And all that was kind of behind her. You know, she'd found a way to kind of cope with the mental health thing. And that's why she wanted to write so much.

And that's what she kept saying - you know, I have so much to say, I just need the music to put it to. So you couldn't really keep up with her, she had so - and that was always the way she was. It was a feast or a famine, really.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

HOGAN: So a lot of the songs, when people listen to them, they're going to hear a lot of kind of subject matter that's about things ending and things being over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Trying to forget something that you know...

HOGAN: And that's what she's referring to - that point in her life where things had been not so great. She felt that that was behind her and this was a new chapter.

MARTIN: So this is an optimistic album.

HOGAN: It is, funnily enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Wake me when it's over. Wake me when it's over.

HOGAN: That's the thing I think we were trying to get across to people when they listened to it. She was in anything but a dark place at the point she wrote this album.

MARTIN: May I ask how you found out that she had died?

HOGAN: Dolores's brother, who she was very close to - he rang me on a Monday morning. And then he asked, would I call the boys? So I rang Mike and Ferg then straightaway.

MARTIN: When did you all - the three of you - then get together?

HOGAN: Would have been maybe about a month or so after Dolores passed away. We kind of said, we should listen to those demos and see what's there, you know. It would be nice to finish off what Dolores had started.

MARTIN: Oh, so you were already in that headspace. You thought, let's listen to her and see if there's something we can make creatively out of this.

HOGAN: Yeah. I think when we heard the first few tracks, it was kind of like - oh, geez, you know, she sounds really frail almost.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PLACE I KNOW")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Yesterday's gone. Yesterday's gone and I'm open...

HOGAN: She was just singing softer than she had been the previous few years. So there was a nice vibe to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PLACE I KNOW")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) I'm sorry I left you. I'm sorry...

HOGAN: I think when we realized there was an album's worth there, we spoke to her family and said, look, how do you feel about us finishing the album? And they were very supportive. They were delighted, really, actually. They gave us their blessing.

MARTIN: What was the process like? You were working with these raw demo tracks that she had recorded. How did you marry that?

HOGAN: The funny thing is that, historically with us, Dolores hated hanging around the studio - was we worked on our parts. I mean, she'd get bored.

MARTIN: Nothing personal? (Laughter).

HOGAN: No, no. She'd tell you straight up, I'm going to give you, like, four backing tracks and I'm going off. I'll see you Wednesday. So in that sense, to go in and start recording to her vocals was actually a - quite a familiar place for us. But the problem was, it wasn't that long after Dolores had passed away. So you had the emotions that were there - very confused. Should I be doing this? Should I not? Every day, you go in, you put on your headphones. There's Dolores again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Feel the storm is coming in. I wonder, where should I begin? In the past, in the past.

HOGAN: It's just, it's weird. But we'd kind of set a few rules going in that if at any point, we felt - no matter how far we were into it - this isn't right, we shouldn't be doing it, or it doesn't sound great - we'd just pull the plug on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Bring in the night. Bring in the night...

HOGAN: And suddenly, you know, we were three, four weeks into the thing. And the album was nearly done. And we were so delighted with the result.

MARTIN: I want to play the title track to the album. As we've discussed, all kinds of people are reading things into this. And, in fact, this is about the end of a dark time, not the beginning. But this is called "In The End." Let's listen to a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE END")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Ain't it strange, when everything you wanted was nothing that you wanted in the end? Ain't it strange, when everything you dreamt of was nothing that you dreamt of in the end?

MARTIN: What do you think when you hear that song?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE END")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Oh...

HOGAN: Yeah, it's a funny one. You know, it's - it was the last song we recorded in the studio. You're listening to it and the lyrics are very much - they're self-explanatory, really, on this song. You know what it is she's singing about. And you kind of know where her head was at at the time she wrote those lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE END")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Take my house. Take the car. Take the clothes. But you can't take the spirit...

MARTIN: You've made it clear that The Cranberries are over.

HOGAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Have you made your peace with that?

HOGAN: It's hard because we've been doing this since we left school - the three of us, you know - before we ever met Dolores, for a long time.

FERGAL LAWLER: Yeah. We were talking about, you know, we'll never get to play these songs live.

MARTIN: I wondered that, yeah.

LAWLER: It was always the thing - you know, you record them in the studio one way, and then when you start playing them live, they kind of evolve into this different entity almost. So that's not going to happen with these, unfortunately. But you're just going to have to accept that that's the way it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LINGER")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) If you, if you could return, don't let it burn. Don't...

MARTIN: Congratulations on this latest album. It's a moving tribute to her.

HOGAN: Thanks very much.

MARTIN: Noel Hogan and Fergal Lawler - thanks so much, you guys.

HOGAN: Thank you.

LAWLER: Thanks. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.