Genre: Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Lost,” “Wake Me When It’s Over,” “Catch Me, Got It”
After hearing the first mini-EP of songs from The Cranberries’ final album IN THE END, I immediately asked if I could cover it. The three tracks were solid alt-rock offerings from a band I have fond childhood memories of listening to with my parents, and though I was aware they were the last songs recorded before the tragic death of frontperson Dolores O’Riordan, I was hyped. And then I got the album, which opens with “All Over Now,” one of the songs that was featured on that earlier release, a song I had already heard.
And I was crying.
I didn’t cry the first time I heard it about a month earlier—sure, the songs were emotionally heavy, given the context of their release, but not enough so to make me cry. But there I was driving my car on a sunny Friday afternoon, crying. And that, in part, is why this review is getting to you weeks after the release of the album, because it was not particularly fun or easy to listen to. All the pain, frustration, disappointment and fear O’Riordan was struggling with is upfront and center. It’s an emotional whirlwind that can trade hopeful optimism for crushing, hopeless desperation on a dime. I immediately thought of another album that serves as a final farewell before death, David Bowie’s final masterpiece, BLACKSTAR. The major difference between the delivery here is that Bowie knew he was going to die. Dolores did not.
Album opener “All Over Now” is a powerful introduction to a record that lyrically sets up pain-soaked tones that carry throughout, with music that sounds like something out of the Cure’s later catalogue. The lyrics on the record are often repetitive, recycling the same verses—it works better on some tracks than others. It is important to note that O’Riordan died only having recorded demos of her vocal parts, and with masterful production work handled by the legendary Stephen Street, those are the takes we are hearing on the final product. “All Over Now” gives way to “Lost,” a funeral-esque dirge carried by a mournful, tom-driven beat. The refrains of “I’m lost with you / I’m lost without you” that occur before the powerful chorus shine a light on her absolutely unique voice characterized by her Limerick accent. The trudging beat gives way into a powerful chorus that allows O’Riordan to explore her higher vocal register as she dares the powers that be to “bring in the night” as she struggles to accept that she feels displaced whether she is alone or safe with company. The quiet/loud dynamics of lead single “Wake Me When It’s Over” are quite reminiscent of the band’s early hit “Zombie,” and it backs up its lyrically heavy subject matter with a chorus painted with distorted guitars and O’Riordan pleading to be spared from life’s more difficult and demanding moments.
The album offers a slight reprieve with “A Place I Know.” Starting off with gentle acoustics and slide guitar accents, O’Riordan delivers gentle vocals expressing a desire to escape past regrets and simply rest. It’s one of the few uplifting moments on the record, and that sense of ease is immediately left behind on “Catch Me”; though the song deals with similar themes, featuring ideas of escapism and lyrics like “yesterday is gone,” “Catch Me” offers a painful sense of desperation. Musically, the track is one of the more interesting offerings, utilizing syncopated synth strings and a drum breakdown before reducing back to a haunting piano line that opened the track. “Got It” is a relatively cheerful song that demonstrates the delicate balance of optimism and hopelessness that the IN THE END is built on. While the catchy chorus begins with O’Riordan lamenting “I thought that I got it and then I lost it all,” by the end of the track, she has modified the phrase to “I know that I got it, I did not lose it all,” transforming what seemed to be a devastating mistake into a minor slip-up. O’Riordan had opened up in past years about her troubled past and struggles with addiction, admitting she had attempted to overdose in 2013. While the positive lyric change at the end of “Got It” seems to inspire confidence and hope, the circumstances of her alcohol and drug-fueled passing make them tragic, and illustrate how truly dangerous the words “I Got It” can be to those who struggle with substance abuse.
While the latter half of the record continues to explore her complicated emotional state at the time of the recording process, the songs do not pack the same punch or carry the same energy as the first half. “Illusion” is a simple, mellow ballad that doesn’t really go anywhere. “Crazy Heart” finds O’Riordan trying to justify doing the things that “make you feel good” in the name of personal freedom while being fully aware these things will ultimately end up making her “feel bad” and hurting others in the process, but the vocals feel restrained. “Summer Song” has major New Order vibes, with a chorus-laden bassline and a clean, simple guitar lead. “The Pressure” is the weakest of the pre-album singles, built around a painfully straightforward, but overused chorus. When delivered with the right amount of emotion and energy, the repetitive lyrical refrains are not a detractor for IN THE END, but on some of the less dynamic tracks, one can’t help but wonder if these songs would have evolved more if O’Riordan had made it to see the final recording sessions.
At first listen, I did not think the title track was the best choice for the album closer. It’s reserved, quiet, quite short, and ends rather abruptly. However, after several listens to the record, I cannot imagine IN THE END concluding in a more fitting way. The track is a somber sign-off, underlined with a broken sense of acceptance that sometimes life does not unfold the way we anticipate. As O’Riordan fogoes material possessions like clothes, cars, and houses, she claims that the spirit cannot be taken, even though it sounds like she wishes it could be. Like David Bowie’s BLACKSTAR, the Cranberries’ IN THE END is a truly unique musical achievement in that it provides an intimate look into the emotions, fears, regrets, hopes and dreams of an artist in the final days of their life. However, IN THE END can be seen as the more tragic of these farewell offerings, because while Bowie had the knowledge that his end was near, Dolores O’Riordan did not. Even with its imperfections, we are lucky that her bandmates, Stephen Street, and her family came to the decision to release IN THE END at all. Its painful honesty becomes even more painful when you realize that the personal struggles she was attempting to work through in her art would ultimately end up overpowering her. The Cranberries have officially called it day after this release; in the end, O’Riordan should be remembered as one of the more gifted songwriters from her generation with a powerful, unique voice that is instantly recognizable. I sincerely hope she has found that place she knows that she was so desperately seeking while she was among us.