IT'S always a fun parlor game to dissect the sound of your favorite band when they hit the wall and the individual players release solo CDs.
Lennon and McCartney parted ways and began making music of their own, and even a casual listener heard a clear distinction between John's bile and Paul's sugar that made the bones of the tart pop that is the body of the Beatles work.
When Mick and Keith had their infamous spat in the 1980s, the ingredients of their successful sound were laid bare in both Jagger's contemporary yet glossy pop CDs and the gloriously ramshackle blues of Richard's Talk Is Cheap disc.
With Are You Listening?, the new CD from Dolores O'Riordan, the secrets of the Cranberries addictive pop rock sound are laid bare for all to analyze.
What a sonic feast it is! There is not a bad track on the 13 songs that make up this disc, and many of them stand alongside the greatest hits of the Cranberries' mid-1990s heyday.
If her interviews leading up to the record's release are to be believed, Dolores has gone to hell and back since the Cranberries have been on hiatus. Burned out from fame and paparazzi, the singer admitted to the Irish Voice a few months ago that Are You Listening? was a hard-fought trip back into the spotlight.
"Ordinary Day" is the opening track, and it is an alternative rock masterpiece brimming with the kind of optimism seen around this time of year, when the school bell ushers in the start of summer break.
"This is just an ordinary day/wipe the insecurity away/I can see that the darkness will erode/looking out the corner of my eye/I Can see that the sunshine will explode/far across the desert in the sky/beautiful girl, won't you be my inspiration?" she sings.
"This was my first career break ever. I took four years off, and it allowed me to get my feet on the ground," she says on the prerecorded audio files posted on her official website.
The exuberant tone on tracks like "Ordinary Day" and the sexy shuffle of "Accept Things" is truly infectious, but the good feelings are fleeting.
Over a grumbling bass line, she sings bitterly that "the summer is over and I am going through changes" on "October."
"When We Were Young" is a wistful look at better days; it's a caffeinated cousin to No Need to Argue's "Ode to My Family." O'Riordan's trademark banshee yodel is front and center in the mix, and its ability to illicit goose bumps in the listener is as potent as ever.
"Black Widow" is a beautifully creepy track built on a tentative piano tinkle. "It's a metaphor for cancer and watching my mother-in-law dying slowly," she explains. "It was a slow three month experience and very sad to see any human being go through it, particularly someone so loving and kind."
Waiting for her lover/crying in her bedroom/over and over she calls," O'Riordan whispers. Before long, the gauzy haiku prose gives way to an ornery metallic riff that electrifies the song with spine tingling results.
It might be a metaphor for illness, but this is a relentless rocker nonetheless. If the James Bond is looking for a killer song for the next installment of their franchise, they would be well advised to name their next flick "Black Widow."
"Human Spirit" is based on a similar piano vibe, but it is tricked out with fuzzy drums and Middle Eastern flutes that usher in an orchestral pop arrangement. "Don't betray your lover/you will just betray yourself/is there emptiness inside?" she warns.
"'Human Spirit' is about respecting yourself and being true to yourself," she explains. "In a way, the song is saying that we all have one chance and we kind of mess up when we take things for granted. It's kind of saying you've gotta count all of your blessings and appreciate it."
Cranberries fans might feel like they've been left in the lurch with the band in hiatus, but they should count their own blessings for the great music coming out of the band's camp recently.
Like Dolores, Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan has branched out into solo work. His Mono Band samples electronica, pop textures from around the world, and a revolving door of singers to create an organic band sound on their debut CD that is completely addictive.
"We left it three years ago and we agreed to go our separate ways and see where we go at some point," he said when I asked him the question about the Cranberries' future last month.
With his experimentations fueling the creative fire and O'Riordan's knack for writing killer pop tunes still intact, as is evidenced on Are You Listening?, the Cranberries will be a force to be reckoned with if they decide to compete for chart gold.
In the meantime, feast your ears on Dolores' disc. It's mature, introspective, and kicks like a mule.
Are you listening? You'd be a fool not to!
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