Friday 23 February 2018

Dolores is back in the limelight and bidding to find a new voice

John Meagher

John Meagher

Larry Bass – series producer of RTÉ's reality-talent show The Voice of Ireland – reckons he has landed a big one: Dolores O'Riordan, the Cranberries frontwoman, will replace the departed Sharon Corr as a judge and mentor on the popular show.

"Having an international artist of Dolores O'Riordan's calibre is exciting," Bass said this week.

It will mark O'Riordan's return to the domestic limelight after the best part of a decade away from Ireland and will introduce her to a whole new generation of viewers, many of whom weren't even born when the Cranberries released their acclaimed debut album 20 years ago.

The 42-year-old, from Ballybricken, Limerick, has spoken about her delight at being involved in a programme that purports to be based around vocal ability, rather than looks.

Yet it's hard to escape the sense that the singer, who was arguably Irish music's biggest female export of the 1990s, wouldn't have even entertained the notion of appearing alongside Kian Egan, Bressie and Jamelia at the height of her powers.

But recent years have been far from rosy for O'Riordan on the music front, especially in the 11-year period between 2001 and 2012 in which her band – on a long hiatus – failed to release an album.

Hopes that she could translate her global Cranberries success as a solo artist were dashed too. There was little love for her 2007 debut album Are You Listening? – a title that gave unkind music critics plenty of ammunition – and it sold badly.

Worse was to come two years later, however, when her second solo offering, No Baggage, limped to a disastrous number 80 in the Irish album charts and attracted the sort of critical brickbats that even the toughest-skinned musicians would balk at.

It was perhaps understandable then that when the Cranberries released a comeback album, Roses, last year – which managed a disappointing 18 placing in the chart – there were no Irish concerts pencilled in for their 107-date world tour.

Rather than play Dublin or their hometown of Limerick, O'Riordan and her largely anonymous bandmates performed 14 shows in France, three in Italy and one each in such far-flung outposts as Taipei, Manila and Kuala Lumpur. They even found the time to play Wollongong, Australia.

A headline performance at Thomond Park, Limerick, had been mooted at one point, but it never went ahead. It was thought there were concerns over the ability of the band to pull in a sufficiently large crowd in a venue that would host 40,000 Bruce Springsteen fans this summer.

The Cranberries have always been a far bigger entity away from home. Their 1993 debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, topped the UK album chart but its highest placing here was number nine.

And while they became a significant stadium rock band as the 1990s wore on, pulling in enormous crowds in places like South America, they were seen as a passing fancy back home – a band that didn't trouble the zeitgeist in the way the other home-grown biggies of rock had.

Their cause wasn't helped by the fact that the band had largely abandoned the critically acclaimed, jangle-pop of their debut album – and breakthrough song Linger – in favour of a bombastic style of rock that reached its nadir on the catchy, but empty, anthemic single Zombie.

O'Riordan has long been pilloried for the quality of her lyrics, such as in the Cranberries song I Just Shot John Lennon: "He had perceptively known that it wouldn't be nice/Because in 1980, he paid the price."

But such risible rhyming couplets don't appear to have stymied her ability to find an audience abroad and thus far the Cranberries have sold in the region of 40 million albums.

O'Riordan has been married to former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton for 19 years. Their wedding in Co Tipperary was noted for her sporting a see-through wedding dress while their honeymoon was about as far from rock-star glamour as one can get: a fortnight camping in Connemara.

They have three children – a son, Taylor Baxter (16), and two daughters, Molly Leigh (12) and Dakota Rain (8) – and have divided their time between homes in Canada and Ireland.

O'Riordan is said to have a strong Catholic faith – perhaps inherited from her devout mother who chose her name in reference to the Lady of the Seven Delours (aka Our Lady of Sorrows). And despite being listed among Ireland's 10 wealthiest women some years ago, she is not ostentatious, eschewing expensive jewellery and designer clobber in favour of a simple wedding band and well-tailored casual clothes.

Whether or not she can rekindle the artistic highs she managed in the early 1990s remains to be seen. She was just 18 when she wrote Linger and none of her later material has come close to that song's effortless brilliance.

For now, though, her focus is centred on The Voice. "I know a good voice when I hear one," she said, "and I am out to find the best star in the country."

Irish Independent

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