Byline: Dan Kening Daily Herald Music Critic
The Cranberries "To the Faithful Departed" (Island) * * * 1/2
It would have been very easy for the Cranberries to coast through their follow-up to the five million-selling "No Need to Argue."
Instead, the young Irish quartet fronted by the pixie-ish Dolores O'Riordan has gotten serious with a fine set of new songs whose overall theme is one of loss.
But while "To the Faithful Departed" could very easily have been a complete downer, ultimately the combination of the messages, O'Riordan's beguiling voice and the powerful ensemble playing of brothers Noel and Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler combine to make the album a triumph.
Only 24, lyricist O'Riordan has never met an injustice worth staying silent about. Like fellow Irish rockers Sinead O'Connor and U2's Bono, O'Riordan sees rock 'n' roll as a vehicle for social change.
Several of the songs on the new album were inspired by the war in the former Yugoslavia, including "War Child" and the album-ending "Bosnia." The former is a lullaby to everyone affected by war - from children in Bosnia to homeless Vietnam vets.
The first single, "Salvation," is about drugs, with a strong "just say 'no'" message that may not be hip, but is refreshing nonetheless. Less convincing is the meant-to-be-ironic "I Just Shot John Lennon," which has nothing particularly new to say on the theme of violence and ends with melodramatic gun shots.
But you have to grant this young band the occasional misstep, like the saccharine love song "When You're Gone." What's encouraging is the enlarged musical palette the band is using on its third album. The Hogans and Lawler provide an ever-stronger heartbeat that pulses through the music while the addition of strings, horns, harp and mandolin add additional dimensions to their basic, post-punk sound.
There are plenty of hooks to sink your teeth into here, especially on "Hollywood," "Free to Decide" and "I'm Still Remembering," which ought to prove that earlier Cranberries' hits like "Zombie" and "Linger" weren't flukes. As for O'Riordan's vocals, she's welcomely downplaying her bizarre trademark yodel in favor of a more conventional approach.
While "To the Faithful Departed" isn't my idea of a party album, it's one that will give fans of intelligent, socially-conscious rock 'n' roll reason to rejoice.
Rosanne Cash "10 Song Demo" (Capitol) * * * 1/2
Rosanne Cash's new release wasn't originally intended to be an actual album. It was originally a tape of rough versions or "demos" of new material she sent to Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.
Gersh insisted on releasing the songs "as is," and we have his good judgment to thank for "10 Song Demo," which provides an up-close and very personal look at one of America's best singer-songwriters.
The daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, her initial fame came as a country artist in the '80s with albums like "Seven Year Ache" and "King's Record Shop" that between them spawned seven No. 1 hits.
But by 1990, …