The Swan Song album of the infamous Irish rock band The Cranberries following the death of lead singer Dolores O’Riordan exudes a mixed sense of loss, love and overall finality.
Listening to the album in full creates a strange sense of uneasiness, not only because O’Riordan’s characteristic vocals are an echo from beyond, but because there is an uncanny number of lyrics and titles alluding to an end that no-one could have predicted.
The first track is a prime example, as for the band it seems it may truly be ‘All Over Now’ as they have stated they don’t intend to replace the lead singer. Opening with recurring percussion overlaid by angsty electric guitar is in keeping with their usual tone, but as O’Riordan asks us if we “remember the night / At a hotel in London”, an unsettling irony overcomes the lyrics as Dolores herself was found unresponsive in a Hilton Hotel in London last year.
The album was composed using reworked demos that O’Riordan had already recorded, and this explains the seemingly repetitive lyric progressions in many of the tracks including ‘Wake Me When it’s Over”. This pitchy song showcasing the singers’ formidable range and echoes the same higher pitched and almost ballad like chorus of their hit track ‘Zombie’.
The band stays true to their Celtic roots in ‘A Place I know’, the soft acoustic guitar forming the base of the track is melodically soothing and reminiscent of Folk. A spectrum of instruments assist the album’s fluidity, but certain tracks seem to favour a primary focus on one instrument which is layered over by their characteristic electric guitars and synthy overtones. Whilst some tracks feature interspersed strings, in ‘Catch Me If You Can”, the piano compliments the ethereal vocals instructing us one “should only shoot to kill your pain”. The band return to the acoustic soundscape for the dreamy natured ‘Illusion’, with an almost epitaphic conclusion from the singer that “It’s all an illusion / This is my conclusion for now”.
The accentuated ‘t’ alliteration in “Got It” isolates O’Riordan’s iconic Limerick accent, the more pop-like pace once again reducing the obvious nature of the same demos being reworked to produce the track. The album’s cover lightens the mood as it features the band members (Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, Dolores O’Riordan and Fergal Lawler) as children with handmade and toy instruments, looking like a group of friends occupying themselves in a fake band during the long Irish summer holidays. The visual versus the sentiment evokes a sobering reality of how the loss of a member unites the ever-changing nature of music and mortality, how our voice can outlive us, an echo of ourselves, long after we’re gone.
The root of O’Riordan’s death is unintentionally referenced in ‘Crazy Heart’ as she talks about “whatever makes you feel good”, “feel young” and “feel free”, presumably for her it was the alcohol and drugs that unintentionally resulted in her accidental passing. In ‘The Pressure’ she sings “You know i’m feeling the pressure”, and of the “many brick walls” she finds herself walking into. It can only be hoped that this wasn’t written from a place of total truth, and that it wasn’t her career that contributed to her seeking refuge in narcotics.
A song that heartbreakingly will never get the open-air live performance it was made for is ‘Summer Song’, the more pop orientated pacing of the track and union between the vocals and the band sounds made to be interacted with, but it never will. A reality once again mysteriously reiterated by the lyrics, as she sings “How can I live without you when / You have become my everything / Maybe we’ll have an accident”, the musical pause following “accident” making it feel foreshadowing, like the music knew before her.
Although the titular track ‘In the End’ probably became the album’s title in a symbolic effort to solidify the band’s true ending, it is nonetheless the standout track from the album. The layering of her focal vocals and an almost gospel-hymnal sounding backing makes the track ethereal, disassociating the physical form the spiritual as she states you can take her clothes and her car but “You can’t take the spirit”. The abrupt ending of the track and consequently the album is symbolic and overall fitting. The album is a farewell to a talent lost and a band drawing the curtains on millions of heartbroken fans and decades of success.