Written by Caitlin Vaughn Carlos
When the Cranberries were first discovered in the early nineties they had triggered a bidding war between major record labels and seemed poised for certain success. However, after recording their first album, things seemed far less secure. In 1993, The Cranberries had released their second single, “Linger,” to a disappointing response in the UK. Just when the band feared they were about to be dropped by the label, “Linger” became a surprise sensation in the US. From that moment, The Cranberries were on their way to becoming one of the most important indie-pop bands of the decade.
The Cranberries were formed in their hometown of Limerick, Ireland in 1990, when singer Dolores O’Riordan teamed up with brothers Mike and Noel Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler. About a year earlier, Lawler and the Hogans had formed a group called ‘The Cranberries Saw Us’ with singer Niall Quinn. While Quinn’s time in the band was short, he left an essential influence – he was the one that introduced the band to O’Riordan, who was friends with his girlfriend’s older sister. O’Riordan, who came from a small town outside of Limerick, was looking for a band, but was determined to play original songs instead of covers.
When she showed up for the audition, with her keyboard tucked under her arm, the band’s sound was very different from the sound they would eventually create as a quartet. Still, she felt they had potential, if only in need of “direction”. When it came time for her to sing, she performed some originals and Sinead O’Connor’s “Troy.” The band was undeniably impressed with her powerful voice, and sent her home with a tape of instrumental tracks they had been working on: Noel recalled: “I gave her a cassette with the music for ‘Linger’ on it,” he adds, “and a few days later, Dolores brought it back with all the words and the song that we now all know. That was the first song we wrote together. At the time, it was just another song and another day, but years later I realize how much that day changed our lives.”
From there, the band had found their center. They soon put together their first demo in Xeric Studios in Limerick. Still teenagers, it was their first time in a recording studio and they took advantage of all it had to offer. Noel remembers: “We used every track that was available, to the point of sometimes even bouncing tracks. Dolores tended to layer a lot of harmonies, a lot of soprano stuff. We definitely took advantage of this in those early days, because the studio was a new toy in many ways to us.” They were fascinated by all the tools at their disposal, and merged studio resources with a DIY attitude of punk. They created arrangements for their songs right from the beginning, including the essential structure and elements of “Linger”: the opening guitar intro, O’Riordan’s humming, the different fades as the song moves from section to section…..they’re all there. Even the iconic string part is included, with O’Riordan playing it on her keyboard. The demo was picked up locally and got an immediate positive response. Simultaneously, the band played extensively throughout Ireland, attracting interest from several major record labels. In 1991, after performing at the University of Limerick in front of thirty-two different A&R scouts, the band signed with Island Records, under the wing of Denny Cordell. Noel recalls:
“Island were actually the last label to show an interest, but their A&R guy, Denny Cordell, was just completely different to the others. He was an English guy based in New York. He’d produced [Procol Harum’s] ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale,’ he knew [Island boss] Chris Blackwell and the whole business inside out, but he was realistic too. Unlike the other labels, he didn’t promise us the world. We just had a feeling about him and, thankfully, we were right. He died early, sadly, but he always believed in us and if it wasn’t for Denny, we’d never have taken off.”
At first, they began recording their debut album working with a local record studio owner, Pearce Gilmore, who they had met while working on the demo in his Xeric studios. As their manager, he also attempted to produce the first tracks, but the relationship quickly went sour. Under the support of Cordell, the record label then asked the band who they’d want to produce the album. In what Noel calls a “cheeky” answer, they all named what seemed like an impossible ask – Stephen Street. Street had recently worked with the Smiths and the Blur when he was asked to do a trial run with The Cranberries in Dublin’s Windmill 2 recording studio. Much to their surprise, Street (who had already seen the band perform at London’s Marquee and was given their demo tracks to assess) agreed to the plan. “Linger” was one of the tracks from the demo that Street was excited to work on, but the record label asked them to hold off. There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the song, since it had been such a pivotal part of the band garnering attention with the demos and with their live shows. After the success of that trial run with Street, the band returned to the same studio to record “Linger” and the rest of their debut album – Everyone Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
According to Street, much of the album recorded smoothly, but “Linger” did prove to be a bit difficult. While the song’s structure followed much of the original demo, they re-recorded the underlying groove several times, trying to get the right fit. Even after the album was finished, several others at the record label took their own turn at trying to mix the song. Everyone surrounding the band seemed to know they had a hit on their hands with “Linger” but had very different ideas about what it should sound like. Noel explained: “… there was a great expectation of this song before it was ever released. We were playing it live and the demo was out and, with the record companies, a lot of the bidding war that began came off the back of that song. So there was this kind of feeling of, ‘Oh, this is gonna be a hit, so it has to be done right.’ It was mixed and then it was remixed and then a few other people were brought in to mix because different A&R guys were going, ‘I think it can be better.’ But we used the first mix that Stephen did. That’s the mix that everybody knows.”
In terms of equipment, Street recalls that he likely used a Neumann U47 FET inside the bass drum with Shure dynamic mics on both sides of the snare. He also likely had Sennheiser MD 421s on the toms, KM84s on the hi-hat and two overhead U87s. Noel’s guitar part was primarily recorded on Fender telecasters. He used a Fender Twin Reverb amp, as well as a Vox AC30 with its tremolo effect. He credits his favorite pedal for helping create the Cranberries classic guitar sound found on “Linger”:
“I had a DOD Chorus pedal that I still use to this day. It was the very first pedal I bought and it’s still in my rig because it has a setting on it that is very much the Cranberries’ sound” The opening was recorded with a cheap Yamaha acoustic guitar owned by O’Riordan.
The final piece of the puzzle in the instrumentation was the emotive string part swelling in the background of the song. O’Riordan wrote the part on the demo using a keyboard string effect; Street then sent it to John Metcalfe to arrange it for a string ensemble.
After the string overdubs were added, Street brought the tracks back to mix at Maison Rouge studios
On top of the phenomenal instrumental arrangement, “Linger” undeniably draws its power from O’Riordan’s haunting vocals. While the song lyrics tell a common tale of love and betrayal, her lyrics and melody are uniquely hers. The way her voice lilts on the word “linger” is especially evocative. The layers of her voice on the track also create a mystical atmosphere. In addition to melody and the soprano harmonies, her voice acts as an additional instrument in the background singing a beautiful, wordless, counter-melody.
It is difficult to overstate the power of O’Riordan’s voice in separating the Cranberries from the rest of the nineties indie-pop soundscape. Her crystal-clear voice captivated audiences, and she never hid her strong Limerick accent. In 1995, O’Riordan told Rolling Stone: “People often ask me why I sing with a strong Irish accent. I suppose when I was five years old, I spoke with a strong Irish accent, so I sang with one, too.” This is the hallmark of The Cranberries talent. O’Riordan and the band never hid who they were and where they came from. In particular, O’Riordan’s vulnerability — in her lyrics and in her voice — are the centerpiece of the band’s magic.
Despite creating an incredible album, the first Cranberries tracks released by Island failed to take off in the UK. They released “Dreams” as the first single in September of 1992 and then sent the full album to journalists and critics for review. Neither the single nor the reviews sparked very much excitement in the UK and the band went on tour without releasing the album. The band was convinced this was the end of their music career. Without sales to recoup the cost of recording the album, The Cranberries opened each night of their tour with the expectation of receiving a phone call informing them they had been dropped by the label. The phone call that did come was completely different: “Drop everything and come to America!”
Noel remembers: “We were about a month into the European tour and we get a call out of the blue, requesting we come to the States. Denny Cordell had been working on the first single, ‘Linger,’ in New York and it had become a hit on college radio, where it had gone to No.8. Suddenly, from thinking we were about to get dropped by Island, we went to play our first American gig in Denver, Colorado, opening for The The. We went onstage and everyone knew the songs and the place just went mental.” From there, MTV picked up the band’s mesmerizing, black and white music video for the song, and the band’s popularity sky-rocketed. “Linger” made its way into the top 10 of the US singles charts and hit the top 15 in the UK. In Ireland, the song would hit #3.
Sparked by the huge success of “Linger” the band’s debut album would go on to sell over 6 million copies worldwide. The album would hit the number one spot in Ireland and the UK and made the top 20 in the US. The success of The Cranberries after “Linger” took off in America was meteoric. Suddenly, this small little Irish band had become one of the most popular indie-pop style bands of the nineties.
The success of “Linger” and its album – Everybody’s Doing It So Why Can’t We – was the start of a long, successful, and international career for The Cranberries. The band would go on to record eight albums together, up until the tragic passing of O’Riordan in 2018. Her unexpected death came as the band was preparing material for their eighth album. Using the demo vocals she had recorded prior to her death, the band released the album posthumously in 2019, as their final work together. They called it In the End.
The Cranberries sold over 50 million albums worldwide since their debut, and remained incredibly popular with international audiences up until their dissolution after O’Riordan’s passing. Their sound evolved over the years, but they maintained their powerful and influential presence. With “Linger” the world was introduced to O’Riordan’s mesmerizing vocals and the band’s singular sound — and the world would never be the same.
Watch the video below to learn more about The Cranberries mega hit, Linger!