The Irish alternative rock band The Cranberries’ debut album, Everybody Else is Doing It, Why Can’t We?, didn’t only offer some exceptional tracks and a promising young team, but also Dolores O’Riordan whose voice was a unique gift in itself. A deft songwriter, O’Riordan was the helmsman along with guitarist Noel Hogan, who steered the team through an ocean of success.
A shy and quiet high school goer, O’Riordan first auditioned for the band on the recommendation of Niall Quinn back in 1990. O’Riordan, who was nurturing her music dream inside her, wanted to join “a band with no barriers, where I could write my own songs.” Little did she know that her wish would be granted by the boyfriend of her elder sister, Quinn. The matter was far more interesting than it appears, however, as Quinn was The Cranberries’ ex-lead vocalist whom O’Riordan replaced. Though Quinn left the band, he took up the job of finding his replacement as he was still on good terms with the group.
Drummer Fergal Lawler recalled the particular afternoon when the 17-year-old O’Riordan came to audition: “It was a Sunday afternoon. She arrived with a keyboard under her arm, just set it up and played a few songs. We couldn’t really hear her because she was singing through a guitar amp or something. I gave her a lift up to the bus stop and I was saying, ‘Will we see you next week?’ We gave her a tape of the music for ‘Linger’, which she took with her.” She came back the following week having completed the song and sang a rough version of it ending up impressing the team massively.
While Mike Hogan later said, “We were immediately blown away, her voice was something special” his brother Noel added, “she was so small and quiet… then she opened her mouth and this amazing voice, this huge voice came out for the size of her.”
Released as the second and final single of the debut album, the song soared the charts, staying put on the Billboards Hot 100 for 24 weeks. Reminiscing the song’s unexpected success O’Riordan once said in a 2012 interview, “I remember when MTV first put ‘Linger’ in heavy rotation, every time I walked into a diner or a hotel lobby, it was like, ‘Jesus, man, here I am again’. It was trippy, like Jacob’s Ladder. I didn’t even have to take drugs.”
A love song, it was initially thought to be written as a song of regret based on O’Riordan’s own experience of falling in love with a soldier. However, she clarified in the documentary 99 Love Life & Rock ‘n’ Roll, that it was about her first kiss. Though lyrically it isn’t exactly a standout, the emotion in her delivery lifts the song up.
Her mesmerising mezzo-soprano lingers in one’s mind when listened separately. The isolated vocal definitely shines the spotlight on O’Riordan’s superb control over her voice. Be it the falsettos, lilting, yodelling, or keening she does it effortlessly, gracefully gliding from note to note and from one octave to another. Her delivery is tinged with an equal amount of devotion and detachment which makes the song hauntingly beautiful. The heavy Irish accent and conscious stress on syllables put a stamp on the song. The whole experience is so fulfilling that one would barely notice the absence of other instruments.
Listen below to the isolated vocals of Dolores O’Riordan for The Cranberries’ mega-hit ‘Linger’.