It has been reported that The Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan died Monday at the age of 46. There is a common fixture amongst those who have had near-death experiences in which they describe seeing the light and how this light is a spectacle of both mystery and tranquility. Seeing the light, in essence, is a sensation of “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know everything is going to be okay.” This is exactly how I felt the first time I heard the vocals on “Dreams” by The Cranberries. O’Riordan had a voice that was just as much soothing as it was hauntingly beautiful and it will live on forever through her songs.
The Cranberries hit the charts in the early to mid-90s with flourishing orchestrations that managed to capture the nihilistic attitude of generation X while also instilling a calming sense of optimism. They were an oxymoron of emotion that just seemed to feel natural. While their biggest hit was a catharsis of distortion and Dolores’ melodious wailing in “Zombie,” it’s the song “Dreams” that really captures the essence of the band.
Right off the bat, “Dreams” evokes a reverb sound synonymous with the new wave ballads of the 80s. The guitar strums elicit a kind of dreamy tone that could easily soundtrack any Ambien-escorted drift to slumber, but then immediately backs out for a broken chord riff that keeps you awake in the gentlest way possible. It’s all a setup for O’Riordan’s angelic voice to come in with the verse and immediately cast a spell on you. The driving bass drum that accompanies along with the echoing toms that do a great impression of a timpani keep the pace of the song steady channeling that of a somnambulistic march into the great unknown.
About 1/3 into the song, the vocals shift into O’Riordan’s patented yodel-like wail that would fit seamlessly on any adult contemporary record of the Enya variety and yet it still fits perfectly in this four-and-a-half minute alternative rock song that was all over the radio in the mid 90s. That’s what having a singer like Dolores O’Riordan can do for a song. The song transcends alternative rock as well as pop music. The Cranberries line up so many different elements from different sounds of different genres and O’Riordan is the bandleader that marches them into a sound that not only makes sense, but becomes a staple for the decade of music.
The Cranberries often get lost in the shuffle of 90s music nostalgia, but were just as important as catalyzing the transition from grunge to alternative pop rock. They paved the way for the stateside success for The Cardigans as well as future indie rock darlings Rilo Kiley. “Dreams” is timeless. It’s one of those rare songs that fits perfectly in so many different occasions. You can hear it at a wedding, a funeral or even a quinceñera and it always fits the context. Dolores O’Riordan’s legacy will live on forever through “Dreams.”
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