RETROSPECTIVE: The Cranberries’ ‘Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?’ remains a triumphant debut
30 years on, the Limerick band’s debut album has cemented itself as a uniquely vulnerable classic, writes Aidan Elwig Pollock.
Every once in a while, we stumble upon one of those special albums with the capacity to genuinely change our lives. I don’t mean “change our lives” in a trite, hyperbolic sense – some albums have the real ability to make us think differently, approach the world differently, and even help us reconstruct ourselves in a form of musical therapy that can have very profound and lasting impacts.
Only three albums with that impact on my life come to my mind: Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil, and finally Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? by the Cranberries.
I’ve been exposed to songs from that album for as long as I can remember. “Linger” and “Dreams” have cast an omnipresent shadow over much of my life, popping up in movies and on TV, playing on the radio and on my parent’s CDs. “Dreams” in particular has always been on the edge of my consciousness; its special and peculiar melancholy an association that stretches back into the primordial haze of my youth.
I’ve long had a soft spot for Irish music: for a while now U2, the Pogues and more recently Fontaines DC have placed highly in my personal list of favourite musicians. The Cranberries perhaps top this list, with their jangly dream-rock instrumentals capped off by one of the most unique vocalists – O’Riordan – the world of alternative rock has ever seen, combining aspects of traditional Irish music with more contemporary – at least for the time – sounds.
But it wasn’t until I experienced real heartbreak (or at least my first devastating post-adolescent brush with that phenomenon) that I really sat down and actually listened to what has since become one of my favourite albums of all time in a really special way. It was in those horrid, topsy-turvy months after a breakup that I found solace in the mesmerising voice of Dolores O’Riordan and her reassuring emotional tenderness, in all senses of the word.
O’Riordan was just 19 when she joined the Cranberries in 1990, completing the outfit that would release Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? – their brilliant debut – in 1993. Such an album would be an achievement as a second or third release for any excellent band, but reaching such a height in their debut is a testament to the power of these four musicians: O’Riordan as lead singer, Noel Hogan on guitar, Mike Hogan on bass and Fergal Lawler on drums.
When I think of the album a few songs stand tall. “Dreams” stands tallest. It’s a wonderful second track that punches you in the guts with sad happiness – or happy sadness, however you want to put it. It’s a song I’ve discussed with many people, all of who end up having completely different interpretations: for some people, it’s a desperately happy and triumphant song about falling in love; for others – including myself – it’s a deeply bittersweet dive into a cool pool of silky nostalgia. The triumph of “Dreams”, in my opinion, is that O’Riordan’s ethereal vocals, along with the beautifully dreamy instruments and driving drums, all together create this perfect essence of a feeling – a softly crawling lump in the throat, accompanied by a full-body tingling sense that I can never relive a memory – that has affected me ever since I first heard the song however many years ago.
“Linger” is another standout, and a song that – along with “Dreams” – most people would have heard at some point. O’Riordan’s voice does some really stunning little things on this track – as it is apt to do. She curls around the word “linger”, she emphasises “don’t” with a slight pause, she strains around “do you have to?”. All of these things reinforce lyrics that hit the heartbroken hard before wrapping them in soft linen, force-feeding them (tenderly) some caffeine and then throwing them back on the offensive into life. Truly, “Linger” is one of the greatest messy-break-up songs ever written.
But the record has so much more to offer. A deeper dive reveals “I Still Do”, a punchy start to the album that puts O’Riordan’s voice on full display early on, with a heavier mood that foreshadows the heartbreak threaded through the album. Swimming further down we find “Sunday”, with its breathless obsession, and “Pretty”- a delicate paean to the insecure yet beautiful that pulls back the instruments even further to create this exquisite vulnerability in O’Riordan’s voice.
“Not Sorry” is the furthest the album swings into ballad territory and is a liberating ‘fuck you!’ to the ne’er-do-wells of our emotional lives. On that track, we again see the full range of O’Riordan’s vocals as she punches us with grief and a beautiful sense of betrayal. “Wanted” is a rockier track that rattles out a short, sharp message of confusion that would be a salve to even the most screwed-around soul. “Put Me Down” is another standout, finishing the album on a softer, doo-woppy note with the same vulnerability that defines the entire record.
But even the songs that are less able to stand on their own have their place in the whole of what is a truly brilliant album. The coherence of this listening experience, and the vulnerability that seeps through the entire project, make it one of those special records that can act as an emotional band-aid and pep-talker. At times, O’Riordan feels like a close friend, whispering intimate details into your ear, listening to your woes, and telling you it’s all going to be okay.
This intimacy is backed by O’Riordan’s simply sublime voice, which feels like a crisp Irish stream bubbling through your ears; refreshingly cool on a relatively warm day. Her’s is a voice with no exact parallel, and the tragedy of her passing makes our ability to hear it ever more poignant. Whilst it is important to recognise that the Cranberries are an entire band, and Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? is a collaborative project, it often feels like the instrumental part of the band exists to supplement O’Riordan’s voice. This isn’t a bad thing in the slightest, and every part plays its role spectacularly in the construction of a truly one-of-a-kind album.
It is, in the end, this perfect pairing of vulnerability and aesthetic beauty that makes this album so important to me. I personally stumbled upon it – or rather finally decided to sit down and listen to my mother’s CD, after years of resisting – in a time of great turbulence and transition in my life. In the end this was the perfect time to discover The Cranberries and their delectable debut; the tenderness and beauty with which this album treats the listener makes this a truly unique album – one of the great break-up records – and gives it the capacity to force us to be kind to ourselves, see splendour in the world, and move onwards and upwards towards bigger, better and more beautiful things.