London Shepherds Bush Empire

It's not just the constant wittering, the trills and curlicues that say, 'Just you try to shut me up'. It's the stupidity...

Ditch the blokes and let the babe shine. It’s a showbiz belief of the cigar-smoking old school: where there’s a successful female-fronted band, there’s female solo megastar gold just waiting to be mined. The Cranberries, though, are the anti-[a]Sleeper[/a] – here, it’s the three stodgy men in bad hair who need to unhook the musical albatross strung round their necks. Their singer.

Seven years ago, when they shyly shuffled into the spotlight, Dolores O’Riordan might have melted if you so much as gave her a hard look. Within two albums the siren became harpy, the yearning became ambition, and they were left with all the ethereal charm of a scud missile. A cautionary tale – except it made them grotesquely successful. Nobody said life was fair.

Least of all her band. On their fourth album, those three essentially nameless men still persist in their modest aims; making quietly pretty music with a heart of gold and a hatful of hollow. Yet while they paint delicate, amateur water-colours, co-writer Dolores brandishes a thick black magic marker. While they wander the pastel pastoral of ‘Sorry Sons’ or ‘Shattered’, Dolores brings in the vocal JCB and demolishes the lot. She’s toned down the histrionics a shade – less Sesame Street politicising, less dog-bothering shrieking – but she’s still a graceless, planning-permission-denied blot on the landscape.

It’s not just the constant wittering, the trills and curlicues that say, ‘Just you try to shut me up’. It’s the stupidity. Yes, it’s easy to sneer at lyrics out of context, but let’s make life simple for once. Given that this is the band responsible for the MDF-heavy lyrics of ‘Zombie’, some preposterousness is expected – you just don’t imagine the fun will start so soon. [I]”Suddenly something has happened to me as I was having my cup of tea”[/I] bellows Dolores ten seconds into opening track ‘Animal Instinct’. Suddenly something happens to the listener that involves falling off their chair and maybe, for the sake of scansion, pulling at their hair.

And if you were wondering what happened to Dolores during that fateful cup of tea, well, she felt depressed and utterly in total distress. It’s the only moment of empathy on the entire record.