The Cranberries Honor the Memory of Dolores O’Riordan With Final Album ‘In the End’

It’s a thoroughly unbecoming display when bands that have rose to fame with a distinctive lead singer undergo a lineup change, and stumble around as sad shadows of their former selves. All hail the Cranberries for avoiding such disgrace, and ending their fruitful and momentous career on a high and honorable note. The Irish alternative rock stalwarts that soundtracked much of the ‘90s and kept at it, suffered the tragic loss of their singer Dolores O’Riordan in January of last year. A comeback album, the band’s first since their hiatus in 2004, had been in the making, and O’Riordan had already contributed a slew of vocal tracks. The singer had been plagued by mental health struggles resulting from past traumas and addictions, and had finally found herself ready and eager to return to recording. After her passing, the remaining band members reached out to O’Riordan’s family and found them enthusiastic about the prospect of releasing the album as a final honor. And so we the Cranberries’ final album “In the End.”    

Opener “All Over Now” immediately has a distinctly ‘90s sensibility, and at the point O’Riordan’s voice enters the mix, fans will surely gush that this is finally, actually happening. The fitting title is coincidence. The song’s subject matter involves an incidence of abuse, detailed in such lines as “She told her man she fell on the ground / She was afraid that the truth would be found.” To our knowledge, this is not autobiographical, as there’s no account of O’Riordan having experienced physical abuse. She did, however, suffer sexual abuse for four years, as a young girl, and seems to have never completely recovered from the anguish. She opened up about the experience relatively late in life, and spoke about how she struggled to suppress her memories. This can be linked to her dependence on alcohol and sleeping pills, and ultimately to her demise, as her cause of death was ruled to be accidental drowning due to intoxication. The struggle to overcome past trauma and the psychological encumbrances that result from it inspire many of the lyrics on the new album. On the other hand, the songs overwhelmingly reflect a recovery, and even transcendence, giving an overall positive essence.

O’Riordan’s accent is pronounced on “Lost,” firmly imprinting the Cranberries’ stamp. There’s a colorful idiosyncrasy to her utterances without which the music would be flat and dull. The song finds her struggling to finally break free of past afflictions, observing, “I feel I’m dwelling in the past / I know the time is moving fast,” as ominous swells in the background create tension. When the chorus erupts, and she cries, “Bring in the night,” it all takes new dramatic proportions. There’s a certain dark romanticism to a phrasing so timeless, expressed in a voice so fraught with emotion. These songs are largely articulations of the same few feelings. “Wake Me When It’s Over” gets chillingly direct, with the titular line getting the point across. Guitarist Noel Hogan has famously been influenced by the Smiths’ Johnny Marr, while O’Riordan formed her band D.A.R.K. with Marr’s previous bandmate Andy Rourke. The influence is clearly manifest on this track, and continues to be throughout the album. Elsewhere, the band demonstrate their faithfulness to their ‘90s roots, with a sweeping chorus of ringing distorted guitars in the style that characterized virtually every grunge song.

“A Place I Know” finds O’Riordan ostensibly on her way to recovery, declaring “Yesterday’s gone / And I’m open.” The singer spoke of how her children turned out to be an integral part of her healing process, and this makes its way into lyrics like “Beautiful Child / You were a part of me.” Hogan plays blithe, intricate guitar figures that again recall the Smiths, but in this case, perhaps even more so the Cure. Next, “Catch Me If You Can” takes a post punk turn, and also amps up the mystical Celtic factor, with those nearly-yodelled pronouncements of O’Riordan’s, here taunting her past afflictions, “Catch me if you can,” as the backing vocals faintly ring, “Yesterday is gone / We’re moving swiftly along.”

Still, the journey is not without bumps in the roads, a reality explored on “Got It,” possibly the most Smiths-influenced track yet, not only in the musical stylings that verge on tributary mimicry, but also in the fitting of dark subject matter to cheery, buoyant melodies. In a lighthearted, matter-of-fact matter delivery, O’Riordan sings “Thought that I got it / And then I lost it all.” The feeling seeps into the following song, “Illusion,” which trudges along with a vaguely frolicsome spirit, the music hardly changing, as if to erect a constant backdrop over which fleeting thoughts spurt about. O’Riordan sings of the constant struggle to bury painful memories, assuring herself in a soothing voice, “It’s an illusion / This is my conclusion.”

“Crazy Heart” is a particularly catchy number, and a welcome diversion from the weighty subject matter, even if it might ultimately issue from the same source. It’s something of an open ended ode to emotion, and perhaps the best example yet of the band’s remarkable chemistry. It’s hard to believe the song was put together after O’Riordan passed, as it seems so natural, you would expect numerous takes of vocals and other tracks in tandem. The aptly titled “Summer Song” is a simple, bona fide love song, with characteristic flourishes like the flutters in O’Riordan’s voice during the chorus, and now about a hundred specific Smiths allusions. There’s a clever little bit in the lines, “You are my everything / Maybe we can have an accident.” This blissful mood is protracted on “Pressure,” which features especially expressive vocals from O’Riordan, who whispers, rounds her words off with gusto, howls and pants in a single breath. The band is in top form, as always, but perhaps more strikingly, given the unassuming density of the music. In the final moment, O’Riordan sings, “When I see your face / All of my troubles dissipate from me / Dissipate,” and upon her last word, the sound seems to magically vaporize.

At this point, we’re left with one final song, and were it not fitting enough that it’s titled, “In the End,” the music itself somehow seems conclusive, in the way of a song designated for a last dance. O’Riordan leaves us with a pretty and powerful sentiment in “Take my house, take the car, take the clothes / But you can’t take the spirit.” And so, the spirit of Dolores O’Riordan lives on in the music. The remaining band members have spoken of how they felt naturally pressured to make “In the End” the best Cranberries album ever, lest they dishonor their lost leading lady with a tawdry remembrance. Rest assured that this is no cut-and-paste posthumous gimmick. The songs here are all put together immaculately with love and care, and the band sounds as fresh and vibrant as they ever did.

In the End” is available April 26 on Apple Music.