Defining the sound of the 90s can be a difficult task due to the explosion of genres and styles that developed throughout the decade. However, it would be impossible not to mention The Cranberries from Limerick, Ireland. The Cranberries’ early hits “Linger”, “Dreams” (1993) and “Zombie” (1994) provided audiences with a carefully constructed blend of sensitivity and angst, ensuring the band a place in music history and an influence that followed them throughout their career. Their latest and final offering, In the End is a fitting farewell that fully encapsulates the sound they have been so famously synonymous for since their debut in 1993.
The release of the record comes a year after the tragic loss of lead singer Dolores O’Riordan. Recorded with producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur), In the End is a celebration and commemoration of the life and legacy of O’Riordan. The record never strays from the classic ‘Cranberries’ sound and features some tracks that remind listeners of why the Irish four-piece were so influential throughout their thirty-year career. Exploring themes of finality and conflict, In the End is a heartfelt swan song that should provide longtime fans with closure and contentment.
One of the four singles released prior to the full album was “All Over Now”. An up-tempo intensity pushes this track forward with a slowly-building vocal melody that proves O’Riordan hadn’t lost any of her famous range. This song embodies the theme of the album, that of looking back and remembering but also acknowledging the inevitable conclusion to come. Deeply entrenched in The Cranberries’ sound, this song is unashamedly 90s angst pop and sets the tone for the entire album.
Contrasting to this is track two “Lost”. Far from the melodic development of the previous number, this song is awkward and laborious. The vocal melody feels disjointed and timid until the chorus when O’Riordan’s voice leaps up an octave and the whole song lifts slightly. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to dispel the discomfort that this song creates. It is a hazardous choice for the top of the record.
Another single off the album “Wake Me When It’s Over” is quintessential Cranberries. It perfectly harnesses that 90s post-punk angst that made them so famous and is used so well to create meaningful music. The melodies throughout are catchy, thumping bass and the interaction of guitars make for one of The Cranberries’ best songs ever. Tackling the universal theme of war and conflict, this is a protest song that uses vivid imagery to portray its brutal point – “Fighting’s not the answer, fighting’s not the cure. It’s eating you like cancer, killing you for sure.” This song deserves a place beside their ‘94 hit “Zombie”.
“A Place I Know” provides a calming presence after the intensity of “Wake Me When It’s Over” and demonstrates the band’s ability to transition from powerful rock songs to sensitive acoustic pop. This is continued through “Catch Me If You Can”, which introduces a babbling piano much like Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” (2016), underscoring O’Riordan’s fiercely enunciated lyrics. Vocal harmonies, shimmering tremolo guitars and rich string parts culminate in a lush chorus that O’Riordan croons over, challenging the obstacles she had to face throughout her life, that of addiction and metal health issues. The intricacy of this piece and the interplay between the various parts suitably portray this ongoing struggle for control and the confidence to stand up to it.
The quiet intensity of “Got It” drives the song forward, slowly developing ideas and adding layers. The chorus lyrics are unimaginative, despite the evolving melody. This is a middle of the road piece for The Cranberries, it has the typical sound they are associated with, however it doesn’t stand out as a particularly exciting song like some other tracks on the record.
“Illusion” is indicative of the 90s era the band began their career during. The song tells a story in a very candid manner; almost a train of thought process is laid out for the listener as O’Riordan asks herself “Where should I begin?” It is reminiscent of Nine Days’ hit “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” (2000) in its honest and frank storytelling style. The music itself is another soft and steady number, flowing harmonies and consistency that doesn’t allow for it to move too far away from its origin. It’s a pleasant song, but nothing overly exciting.
As the record ebbs and flows between sweet and gentle acoustic pop and dramatic 90s rock, “Crazy Heart” sits somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Not getting much faster than a cantor, this song offers relatively basic songwriting. The next track, “Summer Song” turns it on its head and focuses on the beat and melody rather than blasting guitars. Although not quite reaching the heights of other songs on the record, “Summer Song” does have a certain driving interest and is different enough to stand out.
The final two songs on the record, “The Pressure” and title track “In the End” are also the other two singles of the four released. “The Pressure” shows off O’Riordan’s vocal range with leaps up and down. It is clear why this was chosen as a single. It has a catchy hook for the chorus, the guitar part is classic Cranberries and the songwriting is intricate and elegant. Unfortunately, it is overshadowed by the album closer “In the End” which may contend for one of the band’s best songs ever. It is delicate, softly sung and holds a reverence which is hymn-like. The simplistic guitar and strings create a graceful foundation for O’Riordan’s gentle heartfelt vocals and ghostly harmonies to shine through. It is a very cathartic song to end the album, like it’s asking if everything they have done is enough.
Consequently, The Cranberries have achieved a number of substantial goals with the release of In the End, namely, they have drawn to a close a three decade-long career with a triumphant collection of songs that are unashamedly theirs. They have also paid a fitting tribute to their beloved lead singer and song writer O’Riordan. Although not every song resonates as an instant success, they have managed to showcase instances of some of their best songwriting to date.