Sunday, March 4, 2012

Things are (mostly) coming up Roses for the Cranberries

11 years after "Wake up and smell the coffee", The Cranberries' latest is a welcome return.  While there may be no instantly ear-worm-ish song like "Linger" or "Zombie" here, that doesn't stop Roses from being a worthwhile return.

"Conduct" opens with a sound that sets the tone for this disc.  There is none of the brash backpedaling of "Bury The Hatchet", none of the overly self-referential dross that hurt "Wake up and smell the coffee", just fine adult pop with O'Riordan's lilting voice, and the irish-flecked musical touches of her bandmates.  Her solo albums were good on their own, but her voice gels naturally with the talents of Noel/Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler.  The disc moves forward into the sparkly and invigorating "Tomorrow" which recalls the longing of classics like "Linger" without sounding like a retread.

The overall tempo of "Roses" is very ballad-heavy (none of the chaotic screeds like "Salvation" can be found here).  The closest this album gets to out of control is "Schizophrenic Playboys" - which, some awkward lyrics aside, is still an amusing lark of a song.  In fact, it plays like a somewhat kinder remake of "Delilah" - a song that singularly defined their 1999 disc "Bury the Hatchet" as "The disc where Dolores is REALLY pissed off".  It might seem a poor tactic, to revisit the idea, but again, the fresh yet familiar sound, and the fact it isn't a straight up copy keeps the song from falling into that trap.

One of the things that keeps this album fresh (even as it recalls the best of the Cranberries' early work) is the variety.  "Raining in my heart" opens with a bouncy acoustic guitar line with accordion touches (done in lovely form by Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies) - and then switches gears with a dreamy, atmospheric trip-pop composition with "Losing My Mind" - all echoed drums and eerie sounds wrapping her mournful lyrics - only to crash into brilliant power-ballad tones a minute in - and then pull it all back to dreamy wonder-land sounds for the next verse.

"Waiting in Walthamstow" waltzes along quietly - a pleasant song, but O'Riordan's tones get so slight it almost fades into the background at times.  The tempo kicks back up with "Show Me" - straightforward, uplifting, simple lyrics, but classic Cranberries just the same.  Then things get seriously weird with "Astral Projections" - you just have to hear it, but this one is a pretty tune backed with quite a few head-scratching lyrics.

It is fitting that the closer for this album "Roses" frosts the sweet treats expressed in the last 10 tracks with a dose of reality "Life is no garden of roses / more like a thistle in time / roses just whither and die" - bleak sounding words, maybe, but they hardly sound that way when sung by such a pretty voice as O'Riordan's.  It balances out any other parts of the disc which might seem overly treacly, and is a fine way to wrap things up.

As a whole, "Roses" is the Cranberries doing what they do best - classic irish-tinged folk-pop.  It is a bit stuck in time, but as a wise man once said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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