Sometimes when an important musical figure of your childhood dies, it does indeed feel a bit as if a part of that childhood is ultimately gone for good. I wouldn’t go that far to say that Dolores O’Riordan was essential to my musical socialization but she was a crucial part of the time I started it. When I first consciously began to follow pop music around 1994/95 it happened to be the time when The Cranberries peaked thanks to their international smash hit Zombie. Especially that song was quite a phenomenon in retrospect. A post-grungy and highly political piece of guitar pop with an edgy note that made it to number one in the charts? I can’t see this happen these days. Zombie was a fascinating track but also quite annoying after a bit. I always preferred the tender follow-up single Ode To My Family anyway.
The Cranberries have never been a cool band. They happened after the British 80s new wave movement and before Britpop, they never fitted to any trend, were too soft for being truly alternative and too edgy for being a gentle radio friendly pop group like, let’s say, The Corrs back then. O’Riordan’s voice was the key element that made the distinctive difference but the band obviously reached their creative high with 1994’s No Need To Argue and the whole Zombie buzz. I never listened to that album back then, the band became a marginalia to me in the 90s radio landscape. But then Bury The Hatchet happened and for a brief moment The Cranberries sneaked their way into my heart for a summer (and also beyond) with a fourth album that is still critically underrated. In the wake of the tragic passing of lead singer Dolores O’Riordan I’d like to give it the credit which I personally think it deserves.
Your love for a certain piece of music is often defined by the circumstances around which you experience it. Being released in 1999, Bury The Hatchet came into my life one year later and worked as a personal soundtrack during most of the year 2000. I have to give credit to my older brother who still owns the CD and introduced me to it. The time when you’re 15 and 16 is a crucial one in everybody’s life – first love, first loss, the pressure of school vs. a longing for freedom while you’re still trying to figure out who the fuck you actually want to be. Well, you know what I’m talking about. So, somehow this little piece of pop/rock made it into my life during a time when I mostly focussed on discovering Depeche Mode‘s discography, keeping track with the charts and entering that weird Nu Metal phase most of my generation went through during that period. Bury The Hatchet made it into that chaos and provided a hopeful and different alternative.
The right time, the right record
It’s not the edgiest album of that period and probably not even the best Cranberries record, that much is for sure. But it offers a variety of styles and ideas, party even too much. From the uplifting opening track Animal Instinct to the brass-driven Loud And Clear, the rocking Promises – the Irish band tried to include as many facets of their musical skills as possible. There’s the joyful uplifting radio pop of Just My Imagination, the nervous Copycat, the radio-friendly ‘riot grrl’ attempt Delilah and even more. You want sad cinematic melancholia? You got Shattered. Americana-infected country-folk? There’s What’s On My Mind waiting for you? A tender piano-ballad? Dying In The Sun. There’s You And Me, one of the most tender love songs I can think of (despite the fact that it’s written about her son) and a track like Fee Fi Fo which deals with child abuse. All on one album!
The voice of O’Riordan remains the steady constant in a record that is far from being cohesive, she carries the different vibes and concepts with dignity and honesty and that’s always been her biggest strength.
If you are a fan of good pop music with musicality and if you aren’t afraid to let a bit kitsch into your life, Bury The Hatchet could become part of your life as well. It’s a really well-crafted piece of that sweet 90s pop which might had its roots in the alternative scene once but obviously grew out of it over the years. However – from Linger to I Can’t Be With You as well as the inevitable Dreams: The Cranberries have created some timeless hit singles over the past 25 years and although the occasion is a tragic and sad one it might also be a fitting one to rediscover those songs now or maybe for the first time. Personally, the band never got that close to my heart ever again, neither with the 2001 follow-up album Wake Up And Smell The Coffee or their comeback phase they started a few years ago. The times had changed and there’s nothing wrong about that, obviously. Sometimes it needs to be the right record and the right time to have an impact. To me, Buy The Hatchet was that album for a brief moment and it somehow still is. And as horrible and tragic O’Riordan’s death at the age of 46 is, her songs and that unique voice will indeed live on in these songs. And hopefully this whole ‘the right time, the right record’ thing will continue to happen to future generations and allow them to find an odd connection to a band like The Cranberries as well. Their music surely deserves that.
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