Album: The Cranberries, "Roses" (Cooking Vinyl)
When last we heard from The Cranberries, they were stumbling out of the gate marking the proverbial millennial three-legged dash, stumbling, really, because they were still down on the ground trying to pick up all the pieces of the '90s.
If any band was made for that decade it might have these Irish folk. I they certainly didn't own the beginning of it -- all downbeat and heavy fabrics and loud noises about Seattle -- they certainly defined the middle and the end. They made music for smartly dressed people in cafes and boutiques, and this is not a criticism: if they made music for shopping it was at least enjoyable and listenable music for shopping and not the mindless repetitive drone of Michael Bolton covering Ray Charles, or Muzak versions of heroin chic tunes from the '60s.
And then 2001 came and an album called "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee" and it contained songs inside its sad suitcase with names like "Dying Inside," "Time Is Ticking Out" and "Analyse," and it didn't take a master detective to deduce that perhaps the time for people like the Cranberries had come and gone. And with that, they were gone, and despite the usual noise about "working on solo careers" they have stayed gone, and almost entirely out of the public's attention, not that they were attention whores at any given point in their history, just that we had sort of removed that section of the library in the last Great Remodeling.
But if Madonna is now making an album about being Madonna in the '80s, it only seems fair that we let the Cranberries be the Cranberries. "Roses," then, picks up the thread where it left off from "Wake Up," except perhaps without the sense of death and decay. If they're a revivalist act, they're a good one: first track "Conduct" is like pressing a button marked "1995," and singer Dolores O'Riordan seems to have let nothing about turning 40 rob her of the ability to coo, purr and trill. The band is tight and sharp on "Tomorrow," which resembles several of the group's mid-'90s hits so precisely that forensics squads might have to be called in to accurately gauge the differences.
If you were expecting "groundbreaking," you're looking for a different group entirely. But "Fire & Soul," sounding like a winding road bridging the gap between Radiohead at its most melodic and U2 at their most electronic, at least acknowledges that the previous decade has, in fact, happened. "Raining In My Heart" expands the palette some, but it's a lateral move at best -- the band sounds like they're auditioning for a Could Be Counting Crows cover album, and the clunky segue into the lackluster "Losing My Mind" feels more like a stumble than a shuffle.
But "Schizophrenic Playboy" puts O'Riordan back on the beam -- the track has an almost Ladytronic intensity about it, if not the deadpan cool of that outfit. The Cranberries were never especially cool and they're not about to start trying now. "Waiting in Walthamstow" essentially proves that: who writes songs about Walthamstow, a small, boring London suburb that tends to spawn prime ministers and heavy metal musicians and doesn't even have the verve to be full of criminals and rioters, like Tottenham next door? Who would write a waltz about Walthamstow? The Cranberries would, that's who (and also Paul McCartney on "Back to the Egg," which is easily in the top one of Paul McCartney Albums To Miss: A Primer For Martians.)
There's not much in the way of surprises in the rest of the set, although "Astral Projection" sparks a mild Portishead mood and runs into Walthamstow Forest with it. But you weren't really expecting surprises, and you weren't asking for the wheel to be reinvented. You were expecting The Cranberries, and you got them.