The music of The Cranberries exemplifies the full potential of rock ‘n roll. It’s loud and confrontational; it’s mystical and ethereal; it’s joyful and celebratory. Even acoustic renditions of The Cranberries’ songs are simply rock laid bare; they’re stripped of their electrified elements but are no less powerful.
Due to The Cranberries’ extensive catalogue, I situated these songs within the season of autumn. In autumn, there are sunny, brisk days, rainy afternoons, and of course, longer nights. As the days get colder and the leaves whither and fall, I am always struck by the impermanence of life and the inevitable question about what happens when we die. Many of these questions and images from nature are present in this list of songs. The Cranberries’ music easily lends itself to this season of transition which evokes memory, reflection, and longing.
Sadly, I didn’t explore The Cranberries’ discography until well after singer Dolores O’Riordan died. And even then, I initially experienced many of these songs from the inside, as a singer rather than a listener. In 2019, I covered many of The Cranberries’ songs with my old housemates. We had a weekly jam session with a group of musicians which we simply called “Music Mondays” in lieu of a band name (the number of members changed dramatically every week; sometimes there were 8 of us, sometimes just 2 or 3). The Cranberries songs were always our go-to covers, especially if we didn’t know where to begin. After a few weeks of playing together, we almost exclusively began every session with “Zombie.” The song’s droning, driving four chords got the guitars strumming, the violin plucking, and the bass thumping; it warmed up our blood. I often sang Dolores’s parts, so her voice always mingles with mine in my mind.
I put a lot of thought (and feeling) into constructing this list in a way that considered the flow of each song, their rhythmic pulse, and the transition from the last seconds of one song into the first seconds of the next. As I’ve said, this list is about fall. The songs are about missing, yearning, contemplation, and the warmth of being with those you love. I hope this list captures even a fragment of what I feel for autumn: the smell of fallen leaves, the feeling of brisk air moving over the skin, a vast sky of cerulean. These songs are about birth, life, love, and death; they go way up and come way down, and end in the acceptance of life as it is.
The Cranberries have given us so much, so in my own small way, this list is my way of saying “Thank you.”
“When You’re Gone”
This song is from another era; it is simple, passionate, and unafraid. The 6/8 feel and the lyrics lend themselves to a kind of doo-wop 1950s memory. It feels as if it was written by someone who wasn’t actually there but who heard music of the era and did their best to recreate it.
I chose the version from the acoustic album Something Else, for a few reasons. First, I think it’s stunning, but it’s also significantly faster than the original studio recording, which tends to feel overly slow. This version also features the romantic strings, which accentuate the inherent glamor of this song.
At first glance, this song is like a teenager singing to their crush, but it could also be sung by someone who has been in love for a lifetime. Missing someone isn’t dependent on how long we’ve known them. We can miss someone we’ve known for a week or a day or a lifetime, and the chorus lyrics say it best: “I miss you when you’re gone, that is what I do, and it’s going to carry on, that is what I knew.” She knows the feeling is going to continue, so she asks her lover to please hold her hand, because she’s sinking without them.
The singer in this song is in love and is distraught; things are complex in the day but seem no better in the night. The missing is constant, and the singer expresses it proudly, bravely, and with confidence; there is no shame, no holding back. The message is succinct, but the feeling is deep and strong; it springs from the chest like an arrow from one heart to another.
“Raining in My Heart”
The day I heard Dolores died, I watched The Cranberries perform this song on NPR.
At that point I hadn’t followed The Cranberries at all, but I felt devastated. As I watched her sing, I witnessed the energy of her soul fly through her arms and hands as she sang the chorus, almost yelling it into the air. It’s an unapologetically poetic moment: a grown woman singing “If I could fly, you know that I’d try.” I notice this a lot in The Cranberries’ music—they aren’t afraid to be playful or childlike. They don’t shy away from what wants to be expressed, and they don’t judge it, either.
This song tells the story of a mother who is sad to leave her children, even though she must; she accepts that it’s time to go, but even still, her heart is filled with rain; she years for the wings she does not have, so she sings them into existence.
“Switch Off The Moment”
So technically this isn’t a song by The Cranberries, but Dolores’s voice so epitomizes their sound, I felt it reasonable to cheat a bit here (also, I think they’ve played it together before)
In this song, the singer is distraught; she is trapped in a metaphorical darkness; she can’t see the sun; her mind is riddled with ever-accumulating thoughts, and she is desperate to know if someone will be there to help her. This song’s melodies and arrangement are so catchy, yet it is riddled with desperation and confusion. At the end of the song, Dolores sings:
Show me the sun, show me the sun
I can’t see the sun, I can’t see the sun
I ask you now, please
will you catch me when I fall?
will you be there when I call?
I assume she is describing herself here: someone living in a state of emotional and interpersonal extremes. The term “borderline” was first derived as a kind of psychological no-man’s land: the border between neurosis and psychosis. These patients were not psychotic but appeared to employ psychotic defenses in order to function; they existed within the border residing between the sweeping diagnostic categories of neurosis and psychosis. Times have changed and diagnostic categories have changed with them, but the truth is, to be branded a borderline personality is to be stamped as challenging, difficult, and intense, or someone who is simply “too much.” And yet the singer, like people with borderline traits, is just a human being crying out in pain, begging to be held.
This song is a deep shade of blue; it’s the darkest blue can be, just before it becomes indistinguishable from black. The singer is, again, in a bind: “I’m lost with you and I’m lost without you.” The underlying music is simple and cyclical, but I’m always moved by the instrumentation, which features the full band, a string section, and layers of bass clarinets. I think it is an incredibly moving piece of music; it builds like a storm at dusk, which brings the night in so quickly that it feels abrupt, even unnatural. And then it breaks down and dissolves into a clean (but pained) string arrangement, like the final chapter of a book that leaves the story unresolved.
If there is a low point on my list of songs, this is surely it. “Lost” evokes a kind of full-bodied existential despondency, a tidal wave of grief. The singer knows that “time is moving fast,” but continues searching for answers nonetheless.
It is impossible for me to see this song in bright colors; it is a dense, cloudy sky; something torrential is brewing on the horizon of the mind, and the cry in this song is like the inevitable release of the rain. Dolores sings “bring in the night”—in other words, let the day be done, let the night come, let the pain end.
“Never Grow Old”
If the last song was a storm in the dead of night, this song is the next morning: a clear, sunny sky; a day spent with loved ones. The lyrics are quite simple and sweet. Dolores’s vocal performance is gentle, like a friend whispering in your ear. The band is calmer here, more restrained and thoughtful. Dolores sings, “I feel the breeze, I feel at ease, this is my perfect day.”
I am grateful to say I’ve had many autumn days like this—days spent driving through the mountains of New Mexico, walking along the lake shore in Chicago, hiking along California cliffs. These days last forever, and within them, I feel ageless, timeless, and free.
This music video was released in September 2021 to commemorate what would have been Dolores O’Riordan’s 50th birthday. If you’re looking for a good cry, look no further.
“You and Me”
Live or recorded, electric or acoustic, “You and Me” will always be one of my favorite Cranberries songs. Inspired by the birth of O’Riordan’s first child, Dolores sings that she doesn’t care about the outside world; she’s so captivated by her family that staying in with them is more than enough.
The album recording features a small horn section, which feels particularly apt for this song; it’s playful but grand. The guitar riff is like a circle, and I imagine it is reflective of a life cycle, a series of days and nights, each birth a gentle triumph over death; the pulse of the rhythm is steady, like walking (or skipping) at a brisk pace.
Something about this song always makes me think of nature—a sense of awe at the natural world, the way trees in autumn look like they’ve been painted with fire, their leaves flickering like a sheet of gold.
“Dreams” is easily one of The Cranberries’ most popular songs and another one of my undeniable favorites. It’s bright and punchy; it features a notable yet brief modulation that only occurs once, and throws Dolores’s voice into a rapturous, wordless dimension.
The song tells the story of a love relationship, the love of a lifetime that can’t possibly be real—surely it must be a dream. This song, for me, is essentially The Cranberries’ anthem. It’s a confession of love and a powerful cry. This particular version features subdued percussion and a stirring, lush string section. Dolores is like a songbird, a siren, an angel; her voice embodies the wisdom of age but she still manages to sound like she’s just fallen in love for the first time.
“Dreams” is unselfconscious, exuberant, and fun. It’s also extremely catchy, and Dolores’s vocalizations at the end of the song are like the wind blowing through field of flowers; there is an air of freedom and expansiveness that is quite contagious and keeps me coming back to this song time and time again.
“Why” is a three-chord piece of perfection. Featured only on Something Else, this song is sung to a loved one who has passed on; it is a sincere call and a questioning, and at the core of this song is a mystery: Where do we go when we die? Will we meet again? Will there be a “we” then?
Dolores sings, “Will you wait for me? I will wait for you.” Then she whispers, almost hissing, “Tell me.” It’s like she is singing her questions into a telephone connected to another dimension. “Why” ends with Church-like chorus vocals, which amplify the ethereal atmosphere of the song.
When I first discovered “Why,” I found myself listening to it during solitary walks late at night, wondering about deceased friends and relatives, wondering if they’re still out there somewhere, wondering why life is the way it is, why death comes, and what happens to our connections with each other in the end.
The title track to The Cranberries’ 2012 album, this song, for me, is like the end of autumn. It’s not winter yet, but fall is clearly approaching its end.
This song is stylistically different from the rest of this album and is yet another demonstration of the impressive range of this Irish rock n’ roll band. Similar to “Why,” this song is like a contemplation of life and death: “Life is a garden of roses; roses just whither and die.” We are born, we bloom, and we die. Dolores sings, “How will I make it without you? How will I go on my way?” More questions to the dead, which seem to go unanswered; we can look for them in dreams, we can scry for signs, but ultimately, we’ll never know.
This song is somber and mostly acoustic (excluding the brief guitar solo). This song evokes the feeling that something is both illuminated and obscured; it’s beautiful but cold, like a bright, sobering morning. If there was chaos or trouble or even a death in the night, the morning comes as only morning can; we step outside and are instantly enveloped in the stark, frigid air of the impending winter.
Dolores sings, “Everything feels cold in the winter, everything feels cold.” The cold can be jarring, abrasive, and frustrating; the cold can kill, but it can also wake us up. In the end, this song feels unresolved, as life often does.
If I had to pick one song by The Cranberries to listen to for the rest of my life, it would be “The Glory.” This song has all of my favorite elements of The Cranberries’ music: it is emotionally expressive, minimal but not simplistic, driving, and catchy. The strings seem to glow; the band is skillful and dynamic, weaving in and out like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Dolores’s voice is so pure here; it pains me to even attempt to describe it in words—it feels like I’m grasping at a bird made of light.
The lyrics are sincere, poignant, and I think, deeply moving. In the verses, Dolores describes searching for solace in a state of reverie and remembrance; but then the chorus comes in, and it’s like a ray of sun piercing the clouds. It reminds me of winter mornings in the Midwest, waking up after a long dark night to discover a world blanketed in a shimmering layer of snow.
In the chorus, there is a deep appreciation and acceptance of the rhythms of nature and of life:
And Winter comes, and then it snows
I see the glory in your eyes
I’m feeling lost, I see the rose
I see the glory in your eyes
This song also brings in many of the themes mentioned in other songs on this list, but they’re understood from a wider and wiser perspective. The singer feels lost, but now she trusts the natural rhythms of the seasons, and is comforted by the glorious eyes of another. It’s very different in comparison to the stories of “Lost” or “Switch Off The Moment.”
For me, this song is an endless well of contentment; it makes me feel like all is right with the world and with all of life. “The Glory” was created by big minds with even bigger hearts, and as far as The Cranberries are concerned, I think this song is something of a masterpiece; it shines like a sculpture of melting ice—artful, beautiful, and impermanent.