Remembering Dolores O’Riordan: 1971 – 2018


It’s with heavy hearts that we write that Irish singer Dolores O’Riordan, best known for her time as the lead singer and head writer for The Cranberries, has passed away at age 46 in London. She leaves behind three children.

To be a fan of O’Riordan is to feel a loss today that dates back more than two decades. In 1993, four-piece band The Cranberries seemingly came out of nowhere and began popping up on the grunge radio stations and video rotations on Much and MTV. The group, made up of Noel and Mike Hogan along with Fergal Lawler and lead singer Dolores O’Riordan, hailed from Ireland, a long way from the Seattle scene that was the main breeding ground for bands in the early 1990s.

The Cranberries didn’t sound like the other male-dominated rock groups on the radio and they weren’t quite the next Sarah McLachlan or Natalie Merchant. At a time when grunge and indie were doing everything they could to sound like something other than the mainstream, in effect often turning themselves into mainstream acts, The Cranberries stood alone.

The group’s lead single “Dreams” was striking in its uniqueness, with its blend of traditional Irish sensibilities and New Wave beats combined with O’Riordan’s hauntingly beautiful voice combining to produce exactly what many teens and 20-somethings needed at the time to lift them out of the dark bubble of pre-packaged boy and girl groups and melancholy hard rock acts. It was a song about love and hope and yeah, dreams, and it featured the debut of O’Riordan’s stunning trademark yodel for the world to witness. Like the impressive discography that the The Cranberries would go on to release, the band managed to make timeless music with “Dreams” by bucking the current radio trends and creating songs that were as unique as O’Riordan’s voice.

And no one has ever sounded like Dolores O’Riordan.

The Cranberries debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? may be the most appropriate album title in the history of modern music. In 1993, being original had become somewhat passé, with grunge band copy cats and hip hop duplicates seemingly popping up each week. But The Cranberries didn’t sound like anyone or anything on the radio then or ever, making their eventual rise to the top that much more sweet and surprising.

Only a year later, the group released their profound follow up with No Need To Argue. While Everybody Else Is Doing It… had a slow start, the release of the single “Linger” helped catapult The Cranberries from cult status to sought-after group. It paved the way for the success of No Need To Argue, which included the hard hitting singles “Ridiculous Thoughts” and “Zombie.”

I wasn’t a teenager yet when No Need To Argue came out. I was probably too young to be listening to songs about unrequited love, death and depression, but that didn’t stop me from walking into my local HMV and asking for the album without listening to it on the store’s private speaker system first. Laying down $14 without sampling the goods was a bold move in the time before YouTube and iTunes and one I made without hesitation. I didn’t know what the album would sound like, but I knew that “Dreams” had made me feel hopeful. “Linger” made me feel a longing for something I couldn’t put into words. “Zombie” had made me feel scared. I wanted those feelings and more.

I would grab No Need To Argue and take my dog for slow walks around the block, careful to not move my Discman, which would skip if you even blinked in its direction (everyone give your iPhone a kiss). I’d get lost in O’Riordan’s voice, coming back from my walks either more hopeful or more angst-ridden than when I had left, depending on which song I had ended on (sorry, mom and dad).

I didn’t know anyone else who was listening to The Cranberries. Grunge gave way to Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys, and even my older friends who prided themselves on making mixtapes featuring The Smashing Pumpkins and Alice In Chains, but you know, never the singles, didn’t always *get* The Cranberries. But for those who *got* the band, especially their poetic lyrics crafted by O’Riordan and her effortless ability to exorcise her demons, fall apart and put herself back together all in one mic take, we really got them. We loved them.

It took me years to find other fans of The Cranberries, but that was okay. It made the band and their raw and honest lyrics feel like they were mine alone, a feeling amplified by my yellow and grey headphones that provided a solo listening experience. Only I knew what was playing on my bulky Discman and The Cranberries created a world where I could escape and experience all the confusing and jarring emotions that come with transitioning from childhood to teen years.

Years later, I sat in a car with my cousin in the parking lot of a Wendy’s. I reached for the door handle, but she stopped me. “Just wait,” she said. “You probably don’t know this song, but I need to hear the end of it.”

“Linger” was playing on the radio. Of course I knew it. But seeing her eyes glaze over while thinking about a boy who had broken her heart, a story she told me later over fries and a Frosty, I realized that The Cranberries weren’t just mine. And I knew exactly why she ‘needed’ to hear the end. It was the deep breath she needed to feel the pain of the breakup all over again and keep moving.

The Cranberries belonged to everyone who had ever fallen in love with O’Riordan’s passionate delivery of her personal and poetic stories. They belonged to everyone who had ever screamed the words to “Zombie,” felt empowered by “Liar,” cried tears of catharsis to “When You’re Gone,” felt less alone in their anxieties thanks to “Animal Instinct,” saw the light at the end of the heartbreak tunnel with “I Can’t Be With You,” and danced their pain out to “Salvation.”

To truly love a band or an artist is to give them the privilege of becoming a part of the soundtrack to your life, to let their music act as a time machine that can take you back to periods of darkness and light, to allow their words to help write your story. It’s a privilege, in return, to have a singer open their heart and their head with their music and one that Dolores O’Riordan did with everything she touched.

At only 18, O’Riordan wrote “Linger,” the song that would become the band’s biggest hit and help them sell 40 million albums over the course of their career. For those who connected with O’Riordan’s writing on the group’s early albums, it should come as no surprise that their feelings of confusion and excitement while coming of age was being sung back to them, with O’Riordan herself in the same position. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1995, O’Riordan said of the band’s debut album “I know exactly what every song on that album was about.” Everybody Is Doing It… explored “a young woman’s painful failures as an adolescent and her subsequent rebirth as a young adult. And I know exactly what night I wrote it on and why I wrote it. And I’m kind of proud of them because they do elaborate very much how I felt at that time,” said O’Riordan.

Though most famous for her work with The Cranberries, including the band’s five albums released in the 1990s and early 2000s, and their latest 2017 album that featured their biggest hits and new music, O’Riordan also recorded two solo albums, including Are You Listening? in 2007 and No Baggage in 2009.

The youngest of seven children, O’Riordan was famous for her fearless performances on stage and incredible vocals as well as being a feminist icon, speaking up for women’s rights in interviews and experimenting with her look, often seen with a shaved head.

In 1994, O’Riordan married former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton. The couple had three children and split their time between Ireland and Canada, eventually divorcing in 2014, but remaining close. In 2015, O’Riordan revealed that after years of suffering from depression, she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2017, The Cranberries were on a world tour when a back injury suffered by O’Riordan forced them to cancel many of their U.S. dates. At the end of December, Dolores posted a message on The Cranberries Twitter page, telling fans she had recently begun performing again.

In the days that follow there will likely be an eventual statement on O’Riordan’s cause of death, but regardless of how the singer’s life ended, what’s left to do now is celebrate how she lived it. That includes paying tribute to a woman who gave so much to so many.