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Pop Music Review

O'Riordan Makes Cranberries Sound Robust

May 21, 1999|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Cranberries make Celtic-flavored pop weighted with meaning and portent. That earnestness has not always served them well, but when the band manages a deft, personal blend of melody, fire and tradition, the results can be memorable.

It helps that the danceable, folk-based rock of this quintet from Limerick, Ireland, never rings false. And at the Wiltern Theatre on Wednesday, singer Dolores O'Riordan was a far edgier presence than she has been in the band's slick music videos. When she pushed her voice to its soft, hard, lilting, shrieking, yodeling extremes, O'Riordan cast an epic spell.

She stepped on stage wearing a cowboy hat and strumming a fire-red electric guitar, bravely opening with lesser-known songs from the band's new "Bury the Hatchet" album. That material was pleasant enough but usually failed to resonate with the sort of energy that is at the core of such hits as "Zombie" and "Dreams."

O'Riordan's abilities were served well by the band's anthemic songs of romance, but more consistent material could edge her closer to the performance level of Sinead O'Connor or Patti Smith. Hers is not a classically pretty voice, but it is a forceful, recognizable instrument that easily drifted from the intense to the relaxed and back again.

Equally comfortable slashing at an acoustic guitar and marching across the stage to drummer Fergal Lawler's most frantic beats, the singer was a bright, good-natured host who genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself, smiling broadly at the fans dancing endlessly in the aisles.

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