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Flint’s one-album wonders #8: The Cranberries – Bury the Hatchet

30/08/2013

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In the eight part of our adventure through albums which are the sole great points of the discographies of those who wrote them, we’ll look at a wonderful burst of lovely sunshine that rose from a sea of mediocrity and cringe and made one flawed band genuinely great for a while.

cb_bthThe Cranberries’ greatest strength and largest weakness was always the same: frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan. She owns a Voice – vocals so distinctive and charismatic that, should they appeal to one’s taste buds, are an instant source of interest. While the rest of The Cranberries had a notable role in crafting all the excellent, memorable songs under the band’s name, it was O’Riordan that really made them magical. But at the same time it was O’Riordan’s delusions that made them a downright unbearable band at their worst. She was never a good lyricist but at least when talking about relatively harmless subjects, love and feelings and all that, her awkward phrasings, cringy clichés and clunky rhymes were somewhat easier to tolerate. Unfortunately, she started to see herself as the spokeswoman of her generation and a political activist. Suddenly those same lyrical flaws were far, far harder to swallow when their subjects were things like celebrity deaths, drugs and paedophilia. She’s one of the reasons why I have both bought Cranberries albums and later on sold them onwards.

Another reason for the fickle role of The Cranberries in my musical collection is that they were never a particularly consistent or exciting band. Out of all the artists in these articles, they probably have most songs outside That One Album that I like to keep around. The problem is that there’s never a middle ground: a Cranberries song is either a full hit or a complete miss. Their albums have their very clear peaks and the rest are average, middling filler that get most of their merits from being a bit nostalgically 90s in their production. Their albums are tiresome to go through because for most of their duration they do not justify the time spent with them. They are the very definition of okay music and if it wasn’t for those few moments of absolute brilliance here and there, they would have never found their way in my shelves.

Then there’s Bury the Hatchet. It’s where all the negative sides of the band (and there indeed are faults, bless them) are pushed to the minimum and everything that makes them great whenever they’re at their best is in abundance. O’Riordan’s voice frolics and bounces in the sort of lovely way that makes it such a powerful one and her lyrical naffness isn’t underlined thanks to the lyrical topics generally staying in lighter and fluffier regions – and though there are some obvious stumbling points, they tend to come off as somewhat adorably dim rather than truly bad. The songwriting stays strong throughout and focuses on the sort of perky and jangly pop the Cranberries have always done best. Even the token harder-rocking moment, “Promises“, is excellent and some of the slower, more emotional moments tend to fare fairly well. If it wasn’t for “Fee Fi Fo”, a cringy and more or less dreadful attempt at delivering a serious song about a serious subject, we’d be talking about a fault-free tracklisting, something downright miraculous in this band’s discography.

The overwhelming feeling that radiates all around Bury the Hatches is one of loveliness. After the career nadir of To the Faithful Departed, a car crash of an attempt to be a SERIOUS ROCK BAND, it seems like the plan was to return to a simpler, more carefree approach. Somehow that turned along the way into an entire album’s worth of happiness and joy. It’s an album that works perfectly as a soundtrack for those days where there’s no worries to be found, where everything seems to simply flow perfectly and life feels like the loveliest thing on earth. There’s a liberated tone throughout the songs, the sort of bounciness that only comes when you feel genuinely upbeat. Even the slightly more sentimental moments feels emotional in a happy and content fashion. Sometimes it comes off as a bit twee, a bit diabetes-enducing, but it’s impossible to be turned off by it when it feels so genuinely upbeat. It’s just a lovely bunch of music. A lot of the tracks really do raise a smile on the face: “Copycat” comes off as almost knowingly goofy and it’s all the better for it.

In the ideal world this would have been a creative rebirth for The Cranberries – it certainly sounds like it – but that didn’t quite happen. The follow-up Wake Up and Smell the Coffee had some enjoyable songs but sounded like something a band would do when they don’t know what to do. This was unsurprisingly followed by a long hiatus and a recent resurfacing, with all the interesting parts of the band having seemingly disappeared during the long break. The new material sounds like the sort of mediocrity that the band were always in danger of falling into. These days The Cranberries aren’t seen as much more than one of those fleeting moments of the 90s, spoken about mostly with ambivalence or dismissal. These days I feel the same a fair chunk of the time but then Bury the Hatchet reminds of its existence. For one era they delivered genuinely hit-laden and incredibly lovely bunch of music.

Just My Imagination

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