Review Summary: No Baggage doesn't quite match the brilliance of The Cranberries' early successes, but it is a solid album in its own right.
In the eight years that separated the release of Everybody Else Is Doing It…
and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
, The Cranberries had completely transformed as a band. By the beginning of the group's hiatus in 2003, vocalist Dolores O'Riordan had assumed her role as The Cranberries' primary songwriter, and the band's streamlined pop-rock didn't resemble their older laidback alternative sound in the least. That isn't to say their later efforts were poor – they weren't. But at the same time they weren't nearly as captivating as either Everybody Else Is Doing It…
or No Need to Argue
Are You Listening"
saw O'Riordan strike out on her own for the first time, and while it slightly mirrored latter day Cranberries albums in composition, it just felt…different. As good as songs like "Ordinary Day", "October", and "In the Garden" were, parts of Are You Listening"
sounded somewhat difficult or even awkward, and gave the impression that O'Riordan wasn't exactly sure which direction to take her craft. Chalk it up to the complete absence of Cranberries' guitarist and co-writer Noel Hogan from the song writing process, or perhaps a little indecisiveness, but for all its strengths the record lacked the nostalgic edge of O'Riordan's past works.
sees O'Riordan address some of these problems; not only is the album uplifting than Are You Listening"
, it's also far more confident sounding, an improvement that can be heard in the reworked "Apple of My Eye". From opening track "Switch Off the Moment" and first single "The Journey", it becomes clear that No Baggage
's Dolores O'Riordan isn't quite the Dolores O'Riordan we grew up listening to – the nostalgic feeling is still nowhere to be found, and her music isn't quite as evocative as it once was. However, No Baggage
still espouses many of the characteristics that have become synonymous with O'Riordan's music; most distinct of all is her diverse singing style, of course, and barring the awkward sounding whispers in the verses of "Switch Off the Moment" and "Be Careful", her signature soaring vocal deliveries are often her greatest strength. On the opposite side of the spectrum is O'Riordan's questionable lyrical output, which has been slipping since The Cranberries' third record, To the Faithful Departed
. Lines such as "You can't outrun / your skele-ton" from "Skeleton" and "Some mental anguish in my head / wake me up I am not dead" from "Switch off the Moment" are as confusing as they are cringe worthy, and the repetition in "Throw Your Arms Around Me" is rather ineffective and needless. Of course, it doesn't help at all that these quirks stand out
so much when listening.
What sets No Baggage
apart from its predecessors, however, is O'Riordan's willingness leave her comfort zone. Whereas the past three records have each been dominated mostly by slick pop songs with enormous hooks, No Baggage
features a handful of unorthodox Dolores tunes. It's a move that pays off; although piano ballads aren't pushing the boundaries of musical experimentation, "Stupid" and "Lunatic" are two of the album's best songs. The former is a more conventional piece relying on more simplistic piano dynamics accentuated by light guitar, while the latter focuses more on the its atmosphere, transitioning seamlessly over a variety of different moods. Neither song attempts to incorporate catchy hooks, but rather places a greater importance on textural beauty in two of O'Riordan's most sonically pleasing songs since To the Faithful Departed
's "Electric Blue".
doesn't quite match the brilliance of The Cranberries' early successes, but it is a solid album in its own right. A more confident, complete record than its predecessor, No Baggage
sees Dolores O'Riordan building on old strengths, while broadening her artistic scope farther than it's been in thirteen years. In spite of lacking a major hook filled hit ala "Ordinary Day" or "Promises", the more grounded tracks found on No Baggage
are carry the record, while demonstrating the more diverse aspects of O'Riordan's song writing. As it stands, with No Baggage
it sounds as though Dolores O'Riordan is no longer concerned with whether anybody is listening. And it shows.