Chugging bass notes and rhythmically-scrubbed acoustic guitars scamper across a vaguely martial 4/4 drumbeat; Dolores O’Riordan’s distinctive Irish lilt, alternately forceful and airy, flits over the whole enterprise, dreamy harmonies and counter-melodies rising from the ether to join O’Riordan in a chanting, cyclical chorale of Dolores O’Riordans, all cooing in one accord the wistful dissolution of a relationship that simply wasn’t meant to be. Worried that you accidentally gunned the Delorean up to 88mph last night and have found yourself stranded in 1984? Fret not–there’s just a new Cranberries album in stores for the first time in more than a decade. And if that description of album opener “Conduct” doesn’t properly illustrate it, as far as The Cranberries are concerned, they’re firmly entrenched in the decade that propelled them to prominence.
Roses is a very specific type of record; it’ll primarily appeal to Cranberries fans, inasmuch as they still exist, but there’s a certain amount of nostalgia at play for people that fondly remember the 1990s too. More than a lot of artists of the time, The Cranberries’ biggest hits sounded like they couldn’t have really popped in any other decade–“Zombie” and “Linger” are very specifically products of their time, and their finest track, the evocative “Dreams”, crystallizes for four glorious minutes the feeling of waking up in economic prosperity with a sense of possibility. The difference being that when the song’s over, we’re jarred back into realizing that we’re in the 2010’s, and our innocence has been sullied by now knowing that Ke$ha not only exists, but people listen to her on purpose. (Also, Michael Jackson’s dead, and our country legitimately elected George W. Bush that one time; oh, simpler times, how I yearn for thee.)
So, right off the bat, there’s something comforting about Roses. And comfort food doesn’t necessarily translate to an enriching experience, granted–I, for example, find pizza supremely comforting, but realize that it’s doing my gut no immediate favors–but at least The Cranberries kick things off right, with “Conduct” and “Tomorrow” providing some of the most immediate melodies of the band’s career. The latter might even be lovelier than megahit “Linger”, trafficking in much of the same chiming, folksy rhythm and lush sentiment. Rickety waltz “Waiting in Wathamstow” is autumnal, atmospheric, and pretty; the title track pairs a passionate Dolores O’Riordan vocal to a baroque, string-swept, minor-key waltz, and reaps dividends.
It’s all fine work, really, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Roses is largely inconsequential. It’s far from incompetent–really, from a strictly business point of view, The Cranberries have never sounded better, and O’Riordan’s lived-in, incredibly distinctive vocals sound as warm and intimate as they ever have–but, sandwiched between its few highlights, Roses mostly boasts table scraps. “Raining In My Heart” sounds like the excavation of a childhood diary–seriously, O’Riordan isn’t exactly the most vaunted lyricist in the pop realm (think “with their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns”), but “it’s raining in my heart every time we are apart” is simply lazy work–and “Schizophrenic Playboy” is a nice attempt to return to “Zombie”‘s hard-edged sound, but ultimately sounds like a tinny shell of a style that Florence Welch and her Machine dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming.
It’s an album with few highlights, to be sure. That doesn’t make Roses awful by any stretch; but it does make it inessential, in the iTunes era, for anyone outside of nostalgia and/or Cranberries enthusiasts. But, again, it’s like pizza; I recognize that it’s not objectively necessary, but hey, it’s kind of temporally enjoyable, and it makes me feel like I’m 14.