Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
Two decades later, I still find myself pulling The Cranberries’ debut album off the shelf at least once or twice a year. I’m not even a Cranberries fan, really. (Gave up after album three.) It’s just that the cheekily-titled Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? is a very good album, one that easily stands apart from the band’s later, more rock-etched work, not to mention most of what 1993 had to offer in the way of modern pop-rock.
Like the best pop albums, Everybody Else creates its own irresistible world of mood and sound. There’s a mysterious, dark jangle that creeps around the edges of every song that is beyond hypnotic, and just a touch overdramatic. It’s like Lana Del Rey minus the wigs and with a slight Irish brogue. It’s the album that soundtracked my first romance, my first beer buzz and about a thousand cigarettes I wish I could take back. We’re inseparable, this album and I — we’ve been through too much together to part now!
Of course, mood and sound being nothing without a compelling showman out front, the Cranberries would be nothing without fiery lead singer Dolores O’Riordan, who was quite the revelation in 1993. With her pixie haircut, keening vocals, and take-no-prisoners attitude, she swooped onto the ’90s pop scene like a fierce ginger banshee, setting the pace for many a rock chick who would follow in her wake. Her persona would really come to the fore on the band’s later work (cue shrieks of “Zombie”), but in the context of Everybody Else Is Doing It, she’s content to simmer and stew, just hinting at the storm that’s building inside this set’s dozen dreamy pop songs.
Originally released March 1, 1993, the album came to fruition after nearly five years of indie wilderness for the Irish quartet, comprised of friends Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, Fergal Lawler and O’Riordan. During that time, they managed to release four EPs to critical acclaim before being signed to major label Island Def Jam, a move that must have seemed iffy in the era of grunge, gangsta and several virulent strains of techno dominating the airwaves. The Cranberries’ decidedly un-macho sound wasn’t going to win them hordes of fans right away, but a clutch of ethereal, hook-laden singles would slowly-but-surely break them big in the States. Before decade’s end, they would have a collection of international hits and be considered one of the biggest rock bands of the 1990s.
For their first time out, the Crans enlisted Brit Pop producer extraordinaire Stephen Street to help give their sound an earthy, yet commercial, sheen, with a mix of influences that included The Smiths, Sinead O’Connor and the Cocteau Twins. A veteran producer of the Smiths’ final album, Strangeways Here We Come, and much of Morrissey’s solo work, Street employed many of his signature touches: ringing guitars, cinematic string sections and, of course, heavy doses of haunting vocal glides.
The Cranberries — “Dreams” (first version)
First single “Dreams” didn’t do much business upon its initial release, but a later re-release saw it hit the Billboard Hot 100 at #42 and do even bigger numbers all over the world. (Check out Chinese diva Faye Wong’s cover, retitled “Dream Person,” in the 1994 flick Chungking Express.) During its slow climb from “Buzz Worthy” MTV hit to full-fledged chart resident, the song boasted no less than three wildly different videos, each one an improvement on the last. The first two are charming if fairly low budget affairs, somewhere between pretty and pretty awkward, but the third finally announces its Hit Status with a confident performance clip of the band, framed by lush Irish location shots and the kind of enigmatic music video storyline everyone had in the ’90s.
The Cranberries — “Dreams” (second version)
This writer prefers Version Two, with its moody hues and watery camera work, even if the final version’s bigger budget gives the song a suitably epic treatment.
The Cranberries — “Dreams” (third version)
On the strength of all the “Dreams” buzz, the label gave the Cranberries’ next single an even bigger push. “Linger” is the ultimate in misty rock balladry (the kind of thing Morrissey would dream of getting on the radio), and I confess to playing it non-stop on my Walkman many times as I listlessly moped around a mall. (That’s an appropriate enough metaphor for the ’90s, I think.) With its forlorn tempo and serious orchestration, “Linger” made a surprising splash at radio alongside the likes of Ace Of Base and Stone Temple Pilots, eventually rising all the way to #8 in the US and #1 in the UK. The video is a stunning noir masterpiece as well.
The Cranberries – “Linger”
After the worldwide smash of “Linger,” copious airplay of the re-released “Dreams” made the band a household name. No more singles would be culled from the album, but a non-stop touring schedule and plenty of live appearances kept O’Riordan and gang on everyone’s lips. By this point, the album had peaked at #18 on the Billboard 200 and #1 in the UK and Ireland, eventually going more than five times platinum in the States alone. One popular album track, “Sunday,” made it to the promo stage but wasn’t destined to become the album’s third smash. The building tempo and vulnerability of its lyric still make it a standout gem, and I admit to having played it more than any other track on Everybody Else. Dolores almost sounds happy being miserable, doesn’t she?
When “Sunday” didn’t take off, another album track, “Still Can’t…” was briefly promoted to Modern Radio to little effect. Although this slow-burner didn’t get to the single stage, either, its simmering tone and slightly less-gentle lyrics hint at what was to come from the Cranberries. Their follow-up album and its singles would certainly show off an edgier side of the band, heralding even bigger success for these kids from Limerick.
Despite the album’s hard-won success and substantial shelf-life, one can’t help but feel there were more hits to be had from Everybody Else. “Waltzing Back” is a powerful lament only the Cranberries could craft, while “Put Me Down,” the album’s soft closer, is whispered perfection over a jazzy brush-beat. The mantra-like “Pretty” was even remixed for director Robert Altman’s fashion comedy Pret-a-Porter — such possibilities!
That they went unrealized wouldn’t worry the band. Their greatest hit, “Zombie,” was on the horizon by late 1994, and subsequent albums No Need to Argue (1994) and To The Faithful Departed (1996) would cement their status as major pop-rock contenders of the era. But those, of course, are Backtrackings for another day.