Looking Back

The Cranberries’ Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? turns 30

On its 30th birthday, we look back at the astounding debut album from the Limerick quartet

Back in 1993, it felt like The Cranberries just fell out of nowhere. In reality, they’d built up a word-of-mouth following while they were still in their teens, selling demo tapes in local record stores. But for anyone whose first encounter was ‘Linger’, the idea that this was a bunch of Limerick kids on their first album just didn’t add up.

Take Dolores O’Riordan. She was always perfectly frank in interviews about her crippling stage fright, but listen to her vocals on ‘Dreams’. The power, the assurance, the way it leaps across registers, it’s just astounding. The fey Sarah Records jangle that inspired much of the band’s sound breaks like a wave against a voice that is vulnerable and forceful all in a single note.

The Cranberries - Dreams (Dir: Peter Scammell) (Official Music Video)

The legend goes that brothers Noel and Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler were auditioning for a new singer for their band Cranberry Saw Us (say it out loud and thank the heavens they saw sense). After meeting the band, Dolores O’Riordan took their instrumental demo for ‘Linger’ and returned with her own lyrics and vocals added. You can only imagine the feeling, sticking that tape in the deck with the modest expectations that accompany any audition process. Imagine hearing ‘Linger’ swim back out of the speakers at you, sung in that voice. Imagine seeing the possibilities open up in front of you.

Once ‘Linger’ hit the charts, The Cranberries went stratospheric, particularly in the US, and it’s not hard to see why. There was nothing else out there like it. One second, it’s all hushed and recoiling, the next it’s brash and bold, a mix of the intimacy of Mazzy Star and the defiant tone of the new female voices across alt rock and Brit pop.

The Cranberries - Linger (Official Music Video)

From the first notes of ‘I Still Do’, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? sets out its stall. Those chorus-drenched minor chords Noel Hogan wrenches out of his guitar makes it sound like we’re about to rip into some primo Alice In Chains/Pearl Jam grunge, forever anchoring the song in the early 90s. It continuously threatens to explode, but the closer it gets to detonation, the more it resolutely holds itself together. Instead, O’Riordan’s voice soars upwards, like each note is being hauled away by some gigantic vacuum hovering over her head.

The tension of ‘I Still Do’ – left unresolved by that solitary snare hit at the end – suggests a bludgeoning rocker is imminent, but The Cranberries keep ducking left when you think they’re going right. Instead, we get the angelic ‘Dreams’, possibly one of the best songs to ever come out of Ireland. Stephen Street’s production is on the money throughout, from the satisfying crunch and waver on Noel Hogan’s guitar to how his foregrounding of Lawler’s drums gives the song an uncharacteristic amount of beef.

If ‘Sunday’ isn’t a direct reference to The Sundays then it should have been. Its autumnal, meandering jangle could have slotted right into Reading, Writing And Arithmetic, which is fitting praise for such a wonderfully pretty song. Overall, the only thing that could have improved Everybody Else Is Doing It… is if the band had found space for ‘Liar’, a sprightly rocker that instead saw the light of day on the Empire Records soundtrack.

While so much of the discussion around Dolores focused on her voice, it’s only half of what makes her performance on Everybody Else Is Doing It… so arresting. The unguarded, unfiltered heartbreak and longing in her lyrics frequently feels like overhearing a stranger on the bus seat behind you pouring their heart out, so desperate to be understood that they’ve forgotten the world around them. The power in her voice makes the vulnerability palpable, while Stephen Street’s emphatic production makes her conviction sound unshakeable. She’s standing in front of you, demanding to know why you don’t feel the way she does.

The ensuing media frenzy around Dolores meant that the band could never write and record in quite the same way. Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? is the single document of their unspoiled state, before everyone from the Irish media to the mammies in the supermarket had an opinion on what Dolores said and what she wore. Her unsought celebrity overwhelmed the band. If only that was the greatest tragedy of The Cranberries.