Lead singer of the Cranberries

Born: September 6, 1971;

Died: January 15, 2018

DOLORES O’Riordan, who has died aged 46, was an Irish singer from County Limerick who became most famous for her time as the lead singer of the rock group the Cranberries, with whom she had a huge transatlantic hit with Linger, first in America in 1993 and then upon its reissue in the UK in 1994.

Although the chart records show only modest success – number eight in the US and number 14 in Britain – they under-report just how regularly played and influential the song was at the time, winding its way into the memory of anyone who listened to pop music in the 1990s and firmly establishing itself as an enduring and canonical hit which was an essential part of its times.

Reportedly written about the experience of Riordan’s first kiss although it had actually been composed prior to her joining the band in 1990, with her lyrics replacing original singer Niall Quinn’s as swiftly as she replaced him following her audition, the song elicited a spine-tingling sense of yearning which struck a chord in lovesick teens and nostalgic elders alike. Much of the distinctiveness of the track came from Riordan’s vocal, an unmistakeable blend of Irish folk, indie attitude and a unique yodelling quality which helped the song soar.

Bona fide one-hit wonders in the United States, the success of Linger was nevertheless enough to make variably-sized hits out of the Cranberries’ first four albums; Everybody Else is Doing It So Why Can’t We? (1993), No Need to Argue (1994), To the Faithful Departed (1996) and Bury the Hatchet (1999). While the States took to their blend of wide-open rock wonder and Celtic heart in much the same way they once had U2, a British scene deep in the wry, not-easily-impressed and very male throes of the Britpop boom had a mixed relationship with the group.

There was no doubt that the Cranberries had a hungry and appreciative audience on this side of the Atlantic, and greater longevity; after Linger they had eight further top forty hits during the 1990s (ten in Ireland), including the pristine folk-pop anthem Dreams (1994), the upbeat I Can’t Be With You (1995) and the grunge-influenced Salvation (1996). Yet their success, their emphatically mainstream sound and the famously slight comment on the Irish Troubles in 1994’s Zombie (“it’s the same old theme since 1916 / in your head, they’re still fighting”) turned the critics off.

There’s something of an irony to this fact, because for a group who appeared to be arms-length outsiders on the Britpop scene, the Cranberries were more closely connected to it than most realised. Their manager was Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis, former label boss of the Smiths; their regular producer was Blur and Morrissey collaborator Stephen Street; John Peel played them on his taste-making BBC Radio 1 show; and, with no small irony, the 1993 tour which broke them big in America was intended as a second fiddle support slot for Britpop darlings Suede.

With the new millennium the spell seemed to be broken, however, and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (2001) was a flop which eventually sent the group into indefinite hiatus in 2003, from which they returned with a well-received tour in 2009 and subsequent albums in 2012 and 2015. In between, O’Riordan had experimented with the solo records Are You Listening? (2007) and No Baggage (2009), as well as guest appearances on albums by Italian musician Zucchero, Frankfurt electronic duo Jam & Spoon and on Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack album for the film Evilenko, a particularly gorgeous turn which showcased the ability and dexterity of her voice. She also played a cameo role in Adam Sandler’s 2006 film Click, singing Linger, and in her later years recorded in the band D.A.R.K. alongside Andy Rourke of the Smiths.

Born Dolores Mary Eileen O’Riordan in Ballybricken, County Limerick, she was the youngest of seven surviving children of Terence and Eileen O’Riordan (another two died in infancy), and was raised a Roman Catholic, later performing at the Vatican as an adult.

A singer from the age of five, and a teenage fan of the Smiths and the Cure, she auditioned for the Cranberries a year after they formed – back when they were still called The Cranberry Saw Us, a name which swiftly changed – and took Quinn’s place alongside guitarist brothers Mike and Noel Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler.

In her later years it became publically apparent that O’Riordan was contending with many demons in her life, after a well-reported incident of ‘air rage’ on a flight from New York back to Ireland in 2014. In frank interviews she told of her struggles with bipolar disorder, depression, alcoholism and anorexia, and the pain caused to her by childhood abuse and the recent death of her father. At the time she had also just split from her husband of 20 years, tour manager Don Burton, and had returned home to Ireland from the log cabin they shared with their three children in Ontario, Canada, since 2009.

In January 2018, while in London for a recording session, O’Riordan died suddenly at the Hilton on Park Lane of causes which are unknown at time of writing. While the circumstances of her life and the too-young age of her death are undoubtedly tragic, revisiting much of her work from a decade dominated by male stars reveals a powerful and very singular talent which deserves rediscovery and appreciation.