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Dolores O'Riordan, Cranberries Lead Singer, Dies At 46


In the mid-1990s, the Irish rock band The Cranberries was everywhere.


THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) But I'm in so deep. You know I'm such a fool for you. You...

MARTIN: That's the song "Linger," which stayed on the Billboard charts for more than 20 weeks. At the front of the band was the singer Dolores O'Riordan. She died yesterday at the age of 46 in London. We still don't know the cause of her death. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: In 1993, the IRA set off a bomb in an English suburb, killing two children and injuring dozens more. Dolores O'Riordan was on tour in the UK when she heard about it and took the violence to heart. Back in her home, she put feelings to words and chords, and what resulted was one of the loudest, heaviest and more well-known songs The Cranberries had ever written.


THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) In your head, in your head, zombie, zombie, zombie. What's in your head...

LIMBONG: She told a French TV music reporter in 1999 that even though it was a political song, it wasn't necessarily politics she was interested in writing about.


DOLORES O'RIORDAN: To me, I just wrote that song basically about a child's life being taken because of troubles, which in any country is not just, you know? And I'm afraid I'm a bit anal. If I think something, I have to say it. And I really don't care what anybody thinks, you know? Just...

EVELYN MCDONNELL: There was a certain naivete to her and also a real toughness.

LIMBONG: That's Evelyn McDonnell, a journalism professor at Loyola Marymount University who also writes about music.

MCDONNELL: There is a lot of anguish in her voice and in The Cranberries' music and a lot of sense of her trying to rise out of coming from a big Catholic family and being, like, the tomboy rebel girl.


THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Then I open up and see the person falling here is me, a different way to be. (Vocalizing).

LIMBONG: Dolores O'Riordan was born and raised outside Limerick, Ireland, the youngest of seven siblings. She grew up on a healthy dose of The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode and joined The Cranberries when she was 18. Their first album "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?," which included this song, "Dreams," was a hit. McDonnell says part of the appeal was that in O'Riordan's singing, she didn't try to mask her accent. But the sudden rise to fame didn't sit well with O'Riordan. Here's what she told WXPN's World Cafe in 2007.


O'RIORDAN: I actually found my teens to be the most difficult time ever because, you know, you're kind of insecure. You're self-aware. And then, you know, you're growing up - also growing up in the public eye. It's a little bit harder. Everything is kind of underneath the microscope.


THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Oh, my life is changing every day in every possible way.

LIMBONG: The band overworked themselves into a hiatus by the mid-2000s. But O'Riordan stayed active with projects, including a couple of solo albums. In the later years, O'Riordan came out about many issues that afflicted her, including sexual abuse when she was a child and bipolar disorder. The Cranberries eventually reunited. Just last year, they put out an album that included orchestral versions of their old hits. A cynic might see that as a group trying to relive a past era, but she told The Irish Times, quote, "now we're older, we have kids, and I know we'll never get those earlier moments back again, not that I want them." Andrew Limbong, NPR News.


THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Unhappiness where's when I was... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.