Oh Dolores, what would we do without you? You were the most distinct member of The Cranberries. You wrote most of their material. Your lyrics were quite cheesy, but charming all the same. You were pretty much the reason why The Cranberries were (are) so much fun to listen to. It's been four years since the Irish band announced that it would be going on indefinite hiatus, and while I have been only a fan of the band for maybe 10 months now, for the seasoned Cranberries fan it's been quite a time since they released their latest album, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, in 2001. So when it was announced that Dolores O'Riordan's debut solo album, Are You Listening, was set for a 2007 release date, to say that fans were fairly excited would be quite the understatement. And with her first record in six years, Dolores fails to disappoint, seemingly picking up were she last left off.
Yes, perhaps the most apt description of Are You Listening is a continuation of the sound explored on The Cranberries' later records. And seeing as Dolores was the main songwriter for The Cranberries, this shouldn't come to much of a surprise. Many of the tracks follow a simple verse/chorus/verse/chorus format, often containing calm, peaceful introductions which eventually lead to loud, catchy, sing-along choruses. Yes, it's business as usual O'Riordan, but somehow she manages to keep it fresh and interesting. As usual with her writing, her singing takes precedence over the other elements in her music. This, isn't exactly a bad thing however, as Dolores hasn't lost a step during her absence from the music world. Her efforts in Are You Listening's first single, Ordinary Day are some of the best in her career thus far. One element of the song writing of Are You Listening which I readily enjoy is the emotion behind each of the tracks. Each of the album's tracks takes on a different emotion, be it the heartfelt Ordinary Day, the uplifting Angel Fire, the mysterious Black Widow, or the irate Loser; and as a result are quite fun to listen to.
Looking back, it seems as though The Cranberries' best songs were the singles. Indeed, Zombie, Hollywood, Linger, and Ridiculous Thoughts are some of my favourite songs from the alternative rock band. With Dolores' debut solo record this trend does not totally escape this pattern. Ordinary Day is indeed one of the stronger tracks to be heard on the recording. The lyrics are fairly cringe-worthy, as one would expect, but Dolores' delivery is quite memorable and effective. A combination of acoustic guitars and synths picks up the brunt of the rhythm work, but the highlight here is definitely Dolores' pop sensibilities. In the Garden is another particularly strong piece. Throughout various the song bouts of heaviness are introduced through simple, yet effective power chords. Is the track as heavy as Zombie? Not really, as synths and piano ease the overall feel of the song, but it would be quite fair to say that In the Garden would be one of O'Riordan's heavier songs. Finally, the likes of Black Widow also present a different edge to Dolores' music. Perhaps the most atypical of her songs, it remains soft, calm, and quite throughout a majority of its runtime. Artistically, this would probably be one of her more creative tracks, as the music and lyrics correlate perfectly to create a dark, mysterious vibe. Quite enjoyable if you ask me.
After a four year absence, I wasn't really expecting much from Dolores O'Riordan. I wasn't confident that her debut solo album would be able to conjure up the same magic which Cranberries albums such as No Need to Argue and Everyone Else Is Doing it easily did. But this is Dolores we're talking about, and with Are You Listening, O'Riordan has definitely dispelled my doubt. A rather solid album chock full of excellent song writing, catchy alt rock songs, and softer ballad-esque tracks, overall Are You Listening is a fairly worthwhile album. I would definitely recommend it to fans of Dolores' past works, as it picks up right where she left off four years ago. Solid effort all around.
In The Garden