It’s strange and sad that The Cranberries’ first album of new material since 2012’s ‘Roses‘ is also their last. ‘In the End‘ comes into the world in tragic circumstances, finished by the band after lead singer Dolores O’Riordan drowned in a London hotel room in January 2018, aged just forty-six. Perhaps the saddest thing about this release, though, is how little it feels like a swansong. O’Riordan was by all accounts in the midst of a creative flow before her untimely death, and ‘In the End’ reflects this. It sounds like a great band growing older gracefully much more than it does a curtain call.
Most notably, this record never feels cobbled together. This is no mean feat, considering how many posthumous releases paper over the cracks with unfinished jams and vocals that sound like they were recorded in a bathroom. Not so here. Each member of the band brings their A-game, and producer Stephen Street ensures they all come through in a big, full sound that recalls their biggest nineties hits. The vocals are all repurposed demo takes, but it never once sounds like it, with O’Riordan bringing character, poise, and power to each song. She soars on the chorus of ‘Wake me When it’s Over’, for instance, and sounds assured weaving a tale of domestic violence on opener ‘All Over Now’. Her vocals were always a little ethereal, resting lightly above the mix rather than dominating it, and that sound is fully captured by returning producer Street, who helmed 1993’s breakthrough ‘Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?‘.
Still, it’s impossible to listen to ‘In the End’ without thinking of O’Riordan’s passing. The presentation bears some responsibility for this, with many song titles pointedly referring to the project’s troubled genesis. One wonders whether the marketing department could have toned this down, though in fairness it was probably unavoidable. Reviews could hardly be expected to take ‘In the End’ purely on its own merits, so why not address these issues head on? Still, we should avoid the temptation to read these lyrics as ruminations on death. Unlike, say, David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar‘ (2016), there is little indication O’Riordan or anyone else knew her time was up.
Rather, we should respond to these songs as what they are: sweet, strong pop tunes from a unique and inspiring band. On this level, ‘In the End’ absolutely succeeds. And its very success drives home just how sad it is that we won’t be getting anything more.