The Cranberries are probably best known for their woeful and droning hit, "Zombie," a song about the war-torn conditions in their homeland of Ireland. While the song wasn't as moving as U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," it at least painted a picture as dreary as the situation itself. On their third album, the Cranberries boldly take on more of the world's problems, from drug addiction to the situation in Bosnia, and the band is overwhelmed. The half-baked political comments and shallow social observations, though well-intentioned, render To the Faithful Departed as obvious as a public service announcement and just as moving.
"It's not so glamorous at all," lead singer Dolores O'Riordan sings of Tinseltown in "Hollywood." "To all those people doin' lines, don't do it.... Inject your soul with liberty, it's free," is her view on drugs in "Salvation," while her observation about war in "Warchild" is that "we're all the losers, there's no victory." Sure, the points are valid, but the Cranberries reduce important discussions to bumper-sticker blurbs. Even the less ambitious "I Just Shot John Lennon," a muddled number sung about the assassin Mark David Chapman, ends with the too-obvious sounds of gunshots.
It's not as if things get any better when O'Riordan decides to loosen up. In "The Rebels," she sings: "We were the rebels of the rebel scene/We wore Doc Martens in the sun/Drinking vintage cider, having fun." Move over, James Dean.
The singer's trademark throaty vocals, which are suspiciously close to Sinéad O'Connor's, also are painfully lacking in depth. She caps her lines with repetitive ahs and ohs as if to drive her messages deeper, but it sounds more like a skipping record than an emotional outpouring. The music is mostly a sleepwalk of thick and dirgelike ballads, with few real hooks or enticing melodies. The melodrama does let up for the goofy, ska-flavored "Salvation" and the schlocky '50s doo-wop number "When You're Gone." Among the best potential hit material is "Free to Decide" (it shouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to guess what this song is about), which moves along gracefully despite O'Riordan's need to be extra meaningful.
There's no doubt this band or at least O'Riordan has conviction. But the group's approach is so clumsy, the album is ultimately as insubstantial as a bowl of dry Crunch Berries. (RS 735)
(Posted: Feb 2, 1998)
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