The Cranberries: The unsung heroes of the ’90s

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 - 12:03am

NOSELL

Island

When we think of American culture in the ’90s, we don’t often think of Ireland. In fact, the origin of the most beloved music from the ’90s is often traced back to Seattle, Washington. Grunge pioneers were born below the city’s rainy skies — Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana — all of whom went on to shape the ’90s with their flannels and oversized jean jackets. While these bands have made major contributions to the music of the ’90s, the sounds we attribute to ’90s alternative music were largely influenced by Irish groups producing music amid political turmoil. Though these music groups are often overlooked in the grunge and alternative music narratives, they have helped shape our understanding of ’90s culture in major ways.

One of the most well-known and influential groups from the Irish music scene is The Cranberries, an Irish rock band formed in Limerick, Ireland. The group broke into American alternative music with their hit single “Dreams,” an eccentric, hopeful tune that introduced the world to the band’s unique twist on the Celtic rock tradition. Unlike other bands of its time, The Cranberries fused alternative music with their Irish roots, marked by the bellows from lead singer Dolores O’Riordan in her Irish brogue. “Linger,” a dreamy haze of a song, also topped the charts in the ’90s, again featuring O’Riordan’s superior vocal trills and accentuating the band’s nimble guitar performance.  

“Dreams” and “Linger” were pleasant introductions to The Cranberries, but the band later proved they were more than just a bunch of twenty-somethings chasing fame. In fact, their 1994 release of “Zombie” shattered the band’s mellowness and sparked much controversy in Ireland. The song, a seething protest against the IRA and the deaths of nearly two thousand civilians (including two young boys), is set to a raging, heavy drum part as O’Riordan almost pleads for the violence to stop. Over crunchy, distorted guitars, O’Riordan wails “what’s in your head, zombie?” and gets in touch with her raw emotions with a series of primal howls at the end of the song. 

Shortly following the release of “Zombie,” the band set out to create a music video, sending director Samuel Bayer to Northern Ireland to capture footage of the horrors of The Troubles. Naturally, both the BBC and the RTE rejected the video, opting to broadcast an edited version that mainly featured the band in a live performance. Despite their efforts to keep the original video out of view from the public, the initial footage prevailed and was watched more than 660 million times. On top of that, just a few weeks after the release of the song, the IRA declared a ceasefire after nearly 25 years of conflict. 

The Cranberries were musical revolutionaries, but their legacy spans far and wide, embedded into the pop culture we know today. We laughed when Andy yodeled his rendition of “Zombie” in “The Office” and we hummed along to “Dreams” as Meg Ryan babbled about online romance in “You’ve Got Mail.”  

My mom introduced me to the band when I was young, telling me stories of her beloved patent leather Dr. Martens and how Dolores O’Riordan inspired the women of her time to embrace their individuality and showed that women can do grunge just as well as men. Today, The Cranberries still make appearances in my playlists, and I’m taken by surprise every time I hear the roar of O’Riordan as she lays bare her edgy but open heart. The Cranberries have crossed oceans and reached audiences around the world with their radical spirit, and through their courage they’ve added an element of rebellion to the ’90s era, the kind that sparks change and inspires generations to come.