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A Mellow and Melodic Return for The Cranberries
on February 29, 2012
On 'Roses', The Cranberries return to a melancholy mood with stringed instrumentals and lush arrangements.
In 1993, The Cranberries debuted with a sound that incorporated an homage to The Smiths and 1980's guitars and percussion blended with Dolores O'Riordan's soft, airy vocals with just the right amount of angst.
1994's follow-up, 'No Need To Argue' maintained the band's gentle arrangements while refining their rock edge with the hit song, "Zombie". Throughout both of these first two albums, The Cranberries' sound was perfectly captured by producer Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths).
In 1996, for the band's third album, The Cranberries wanted to feature the "rawness" of their live shows by working with Aerosmith producer, Bruce Fairbairn. The result saw Dolores O'Riordan forgoing her signature breathy vocals for powerhouse delivery while the songs, in general, were harder and arguably less cohesive. Though 1996's "To The Faithful Departed" had its share of great songs ("Salvation", "Hollywood", "When You're Gone", "Free to Decide"), it lost the lush, melodic tone and layers of vocals and guitars that were so well-captured by 'Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?' ("Linger", "Dreams") and 'No Need to Argue' ("Ode To My Family", "I Can't Be With You").
After a three-year hiatus, The Cranberries returned in 1999 with 'Bury The Hatchet', co-produced by Benedict Fenner and The Cranberries. While 'Bury The Hatchet' attempted to blend The Cranberries "classic" sound with some of the styles used on 'To The Faithful Departed' (horns and brass instruments as well as stringed instruments), the quality of the songs were lackluster (compared to the band's previous efforts).
Two years later, The Cranberries offered a follow-up album, 'Wake Up And Smell The Coffee', produced by Stephen Street and The Cranberries. Though 'Wake Up And Smell The Coffee' contains a terrific collection of songs, the band had several obstacles during production that resulted in a less than perfect final result. The primary problem was the dissolution of the band's record company and the severe lack of promotion for the album. Additionally, behind the scenes, the band struggled with individual health and family challenges that led to much of the album's production being rushed or transferred from working demos with little studio work.
After disappointing album sales in 2001, years of world tours and personal burnout, the band went on hiatus on 2003, leaving their 6th album unfinished.
Finally, 11 years after 2001's 'Wake Up And Smell The Coffee', The Cranberries have returned with 'Roses', their sixth studio album.
'Roses' was produced by Stephen Street, who took extreme care to "recapture The Cranberries' classic sound" (as defined by the band's debut album, 'Everybody Else...' and the sophomore album, 'No Need to Argue').
First, Street helped O'Riordan return to an earthier, gentler approach to her vocal presentation. After years of touring (and a personal appreciation for hard rock), Dolores's vocals had evolved towards a harder, tougher, bolder delivery. For 'Roses', Street worked with Dolores to approach the vocals from a softer, breathier aspect - evoking a more introspective sound.
Next, Street worked to incorporate stringed instruments as part of The Cranberries' layered sound.
Over the years, guitarist and co-writer Noel Hogan has worked on solo projects to produce and record music, developing an interest and talent in programming. For 'Roses', Hogan worked with Street to add a modern flair of production that the band considers to be more "experimental" for them. The result is a well-unified collection of songs that reflect both Street's style with the band and Hogan's incorporation of cautious programming.
'Roses' demonstrates bassist Mike Hogan's growth as a musician. The bass lines are clear and compelling throughout the album as a whole. Drummer Fergal Lawler continues to hold each song together with a drumming style that can be compared to 1980's bands like The Cure and Modern English.
Though 'Roses' brings back layers of vocals, harmonies and pieces of background instrumentation, the album could have, perhaps, benefited from even more vocal and background layers. The richness of sound is obvious on 'Roses', but is still noticeably less full when compared to the band's masterpiece, 'No Need to Argue'.
The songs on 'Roses' are well-developed and enjoyable from start to finish. The tone is mellow and dreamy. Standout track "Conduct" opens the album and immediately signifies that "classic" sound for The Cranberries. Perhaps "Conduct" works so well because the music was co-written by O'Riordan and Hogan. The two have a special chemistry for developing songs that offer the ideal blend of melody and music.
The introductory single, "Tomorrow", is one of the rarer upbeat songs on 'Roses'. With an intro that immediately reminds listeners of 'No Need to Argue' b-side, "I Don't Need", "Tomorrow" is an up-tempo song that has helped to reintroduce audiences to the music of The Cranberries. Merging the band's feel-good vibe from previous hits like "Dreams", "Tomorrow" has a nice place as the second track on the 'Roses' song collection.
"Fire and Soul" is a nice example of the melding of contemporary drum programming and The Cranberries' traditional musicianship. The vocal overlays are dominant on this track. Though the melody may be a trifle boring, "Fire and Soul" helps to set the softer tone of the makes up the album's overall "chill" vibe.
"Raining In My Heart" is a very Cranberries-esque track with the opening guitars (think "Animal Instinct" from 'Bury the Hatchet'). The accordion offers a European feel and also draws some similarities to the use of an accordion from the band's debut album's "Put Me Down". The song's guitars also conjure some similarities to 'Wake Up And Smell The Coffee' b-side, "Cape Town" while the song's thumping drum conclusion resembles 1993's "How".
"Losing My Mind" is an interesting blend of Dolores's solo sound (2007's 'Are You Listening' and 2009's 'No Baggage) and The Cranberries' early work, particularly that of 'No Need To Argue'. The song is a peaceful ride to a rockier chorus that quickly and suddenly reins back, spending little time on the rock edge of the song's chorus and more time on tranquility. Dolores's vocal bends at the song's end are a strong reminder of The Cranberries' overall sound and Dolores's style as a vocalist.
Picking up the pace and moving into a more adventurous subject matter, "Schizophrenic Playboys" is the "rock song" of 'Roses'. This fun song has a James Bond vibe with an interesting combination of guitars and strings.
After the rocking ride of "Schizophrenic Playboys", 'Roses' quickly returns to a slower pace with "Waiting In Walthamstow". With it's somber strings and jazzy bass line, "Waiting In Walthamstow" has an appropriate London feel, while blending Dolores's vocal layers and The Cranberries' trademark guitars. Towards the song's close, one can hear traces of 'No Need To Argue's "Everything I Said", while the song, as a whole, is probably the most unique song for The Cranberries on the 'Roses' album.
"Show Me", penned exclusively by Dolores O'Riordan, is an inspiring song with a galloping rhythm reminiscent of "Dreams". The powerful use of strings is the key to this song's success.
"Astral Projections" was originally written in 2002 and was performed live throughout 2003. Finally released on 'Roses', the song is an appropriate fit for the album's dreamy mood. The guitars and dominant percussion make for a well-arranged song. Similar to "Losing My Mind", "Astral Projections" takes you on a ride of stillness to more of a powerhouse chorus, while quickly returning to its subtler self.
"So Good", also written exclusively by O'Riordan, is the closest song to those found within Dolores's solo work. A bit repetitive and predictable, "So Good" is a weaker song for the 'Roses' ensemble, but still has its shining moments - particularly with the use of strings, almost reminding the listener of sounds from "Ode To My Family".
Title track, "Roses", is a serene song, reflecting on the pain of life and life lost. Inspired by the health problems experienced by Dolores's father (who passed away in November of 2011), "Roses" is a somber reminder of pain associated with the loss of a relationship. Dolores sings each lyrics with a sadness. The fuzz guitar solo brings out a moving aspect for the song and helps to keep interest in the song's gentle melody.
Whether you are an established fan who is listening for that specific Cranberries "sound" or new to the band, 'Roses' is an incredible collection of quality music, performed by a band with a special sound and a unique chemistry as a musical unit.
'Roses' is not a departure for The Cranberries, nor it is a repeat of their earlier hits. It offers a nice blend of predictability and surprise.