For those who’ve never heard the story of The Cranberries, it’s really pretty cool. It’s the early nineties, and the band who has previously been billed as “The Cranberry Saw Us” has just lost its lead singer after playing for nearly a year. They hold auditions, and in walks a young and overwhelmingly talented woman named Dolores O’Riordan with her keyboard and microphone. A band name change, a few demos and lots of gigs later The Cranberries release their first album Everybody Else is Doing It So Why Can’t We? and the rest, as they say, is history.
So now in 2009, those yearning for a little of the old Cranberry magic might be excited to hear a song like “Skeleton” off O’Riordan’s second solo album No Baggage. It starts with the familiar Cranberry ka-boom of drums, guitars and O’Riordan’s melancholy musings, “I tried to face it/I can’t embrace it” complete with the oh-oh-oh-oh-oh’s and whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa’s. The main difference here is that the song, like its namesake, feels a little empty. There’s nothing here to draw us in, it’s a few musical bars on repeat with stagnant lyrics and a pedestrian arrangement.
This is truly a solo album in the sense that the only thing on display here is O’Riordan herself; her voice is still as beautiful and haunting as ever but the songs are pleasant at best, and even that at times is a stretch. One of the catchiest songs on the record, “The Journey”, is also demonstrative of the sort of shallow depths the album plummets to, as it utilizes some creative percussion, driving bass lines, and O’Riordan belting out repetitious, inspirational slogans that could just as easily fit in a car commercial or the end credits of another feel-good sports flick.
Even without the inevitable comparisons to O’Riordan’s older work with The Cranberries, the music here comes up short a lot. The songs lack the oomph you’d expect from a woman of her ability, and rely heavily on the accompaniments rather than strong, memorable melodies. It’s the sort of album that fits best in the background of a Starbucks or a dinner party, where one might stop and say, “Oh, I recognize her voice,” and then continue on with a previous conversation about the strength of the dollar or the erratic weather or how a relative’s trip to some vacation spot went. It’s bland and inoffensive and, quite simply, disappointing.