Dolores O'Riordan - No Baggage
There's a sense of deja-vu as Switch Off The Moment, the opening track on former Cranberries vocalist Dolores O'Riordan's second solo album, kicks in. So distinct and familiar is that voice, that anyone who was even half-awake in the the early 1990's won't fail to recognise its owner. Those unique vocal stylings - or affectations if you prefer - are a dead give-away. Trills, yodels and banshee wails are liberally spattered over the musical canvas with little respect for the art of subtlety. It's a style that has polarised audiences since The Cranberries' re-released single Linger broke into the UK Top 20 in 1994, and will continue to do so here. If you're already a willing captive to O'Riordan's siren call then you'll want to know more, but if you're one of those who find it just sets their teeth on edge... well, then you're probably not even reading this review anyway.
Promoted as O'Riordan's most personal album since 1994's No Need To Argue, No Baggage never really reaches the same heights of emotion that found The Cranberries' second album so celebrated. Comparably No Baggage is a rather more restrained affair. The pace is more uniform and the overall feeling is that it's all just a little bit polite and inoffensive, to the detriment of the emotional power underlying each of the songs here. I find myself wishing that album co-producer O'Riordan would let her guard drop and resist the temptation to hide behind the overbearing production, which feels here like it's holding both her and these songs back.
Having said that, No Baggage is O'Riordan's best album since 1999's Bury The Hatchet, the penultimate release from her former band.
Opener Switch Off The Moment shows the singer's talents to their advantage, with its breathy verses and soaring chorus. Skeleton would be a worthy single and is candidate for nomination as No Baggage's "anthemic rock one" in the same vein as the likes of Zombie and Salvation held the position on their respective albums. It's an old-fashioned belter, even if it doesn't quite hit with the same power as those elder siblings.
First single off the album though is The Journey, and it's as catchy and radio-friendly as anything O'Riordan has done in recent years. Be Careful and the sweetly nostalgic Fly Through continue in a similar vein, though the inclusion of a re-recorded Apple of my Eye from first solo album Are You Listening? seems superfluous here. Far better is Lunatic. A wistful ballad with a sting in its tail, Lunatic catches the listener out with a poignant twist at the 3 minute mark as O'Riordan roars into life like an Irish Tori Amos. "There's nowhere you can hide" she wails, and suddenly the song seems oh-so-very aptly named!
What the future holds for Dolores O'Riordan, solo artist, is currently unclear. Just days before No Baggage's release, her website announced the cancellation of the entire North American tour scheduled to promote the new album, amid internet rumours of an imminent Cranberries reunion. Hopefully there'll be opportunity yet for O'Riordan to take this album onto the road, where these deserving songs would have the opportunity to live up to the album's title and shed themselves of the excess baggage of their production values. That could be the making of them.