The Cranberries hit sour note on latest release

by Carl Burnett | 10/30/01 6:00am

On their fifth album, "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee," the Cranberries venture little and gain nothing.

The group responsible for the 1994 hit album "No Need to Argue" had such a consistent sound on their first three albums that one had to wonder whether they were only capable of making the same record over and over again. But on 1999's "Bury the Hatchet," the band appeared to be exploring new territory, delving into a heavier sound on some tracks.

Now they have reverted back to making the same old album again. Producer Stephen Street, who guided the band through their first two albums, has returned, ensuring a batch of the same kind of well-layered pop songs that were found on the albums that yielded the hits "Linger" and "Zombie." The difference is that there are no hit-worthy songs to be found here, and if there were, they would unfortunately be irrelevant in the "TRL" era of 2001.

Mind you, lead singer and songwriter Dolores O'Riordan still has one of the most intriguing female voices in pop, and on "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee," she sounds as good as ever, fluctuating between a whisper and her trademark yodel. It's just too bad she didn't give herself better lyrical fodder to work with.

"Birds in the sky, they look so high," O'Riordan sings on the opening track, "Never Grow Old."

The next song, "Analyse," tapped as the first single, is no better: "Breathe the air, out there / We are free, we can be wide open." The third track, "Time Is Ticking Out," tackles global warming and pollution with such uninsightful lines as these: "Looks like we've screwed up the ozone layer / I wonder if the politicians care." And so on for the rest of the album.

Musically, the album isn't bad at all. Noel Hogan's guitars have a jangly sound similar to those of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, and they have the effect of unifying the album neatly. The better songs take advantage of Hogan's abilities.

"Wake Up" contains a few solid rockers. On "Do You Know," O'Riordan balances the soft bits with an insistent chorus, and adds a keyboard solo for good measure. Hogan's driving acoustic guitar is a highlight throughout.

"This Is the Day" recalls "Zombie," and is also guitar-driven, though here Hogan's weapon of choice is electric. He even throws in a little hard-rock snarl here and there, and it doesn't sound nearly as out of place as you might think. This was the sound the band pursued on "Bury the Hatchet," with considerable success.

Among the ballads, the standout is "The Concept," backed by a snare drum beat of machine-like precision courtesy of Fergal Lawler. O'Riordan contributes a keyboard hook that makes the song likeable, despite more trite lyrics.

The album's low point, interestingly, is the title track, which finds O'Riordan wailing: "Wake up" and "Shut up" over and over, and then "It's time, smell the coffee!"

Indeed.

The Cranberries could keep cranking out albums like this and making reviewers like this one yawn. Or they could wake up and smell the coffee and realize that a little experimentation isn't a bad thing.