ROCK

The Cranberries "To The Faithful Departed"

The Cranberries "To The Faithful Departed"

Island, CID8048 524 234-2 (52 mins) Dial-a-track code 1201

The third album by Dolores O'Riordan and her Three Blokes has already been mashed to a very fine cranberry sauce by critics everywhere, and it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to work out why. To The Faithful Departed is a giant leap in the continuing decline of the Limerick band, whose artistry and subtlety seem to shrink in inverse proportion to their wealth and fame. There's a vengeful streak running through some of the more vitriolic reviews, as though Dolores O'Riordan Burton had somehow betrayed a vague ideal of purity and innocence by changing from a nice young girl into a tough, self assertive woman. It's hard to find the balance between the perceived begrudgery of the commentary and the glaringly obvious failings of the commodity, but it's not difficult to see that The Cranberries have finally discarded the last of their intangible qualities and replaced them with something more solid and marketable.

The production of Bruce Fairbairn sweeps clean any lingering traces of vulnerability and fragility, making The Cranberries sound like shoegazing's answer to Aerosmith, and leaving Dolores free to flex her newly found musical muscle and play the strong, maternal role model for pop kids everywhere. Hollywood piles on the Zombi style distorted guitars while Dolores doubles the decibel level 0 her whooping, wailing vocals Salvation simply prattles and preaches, smug in its own self righteous dogma. Another "rocker", Forever Yellow Skies, bears a resemblance to Sinead O Connor's Mandinka. Electric Blue adopts a token Celtic air, Dolores intoning Enya's multi layered sound but forgetting to add the spirituality. In every song, Dolly's vocals are so mannered and idiosyncratic they leave Alanis Morissette, Bjork and Tori Amos in the ha penny place.

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If you, can get past the heavy handed fusion of Icy, feckless indie and clumsy, crushing pomp rock there are still the trite lyrics to deal with, but since the worst of them have already been held up to the cold light of print, I won't add insult to inanity. To The Faithful Departed has provoked a press crucifixion of The Cranberries, but I believe it's just the misguided effort of four innocents abroad, who found fame before they could find their feet and are now stomping around in a vain attempt to keep walking on water.

Ash "1977"

Infectious, INFECT40CD (62 mins) Dial-a-track code 1311

1977 was a damn good year. It was the year that punk broke, and also the year I became legally able to go to the pub. 77 is also the title of one of favourite records of all time, and for those 1990s kids experiencing their first (legal) flush of booze and rock`n'roll, Ash's debut, album will probably become as cherished as Talking Heads first album was to me.

1977 finds the Downpatrick trio in full flight, floating lightly over Britrock's pyre and stamping glee fully over grunge's grave. It's not a lumpen, heavy effort, but nor is it a fluffy bit of candy floss pop Tim Wheeler's songs manage to veer recklessly around every fashionable pop tance without ever colliding with the brick wall of predictability. It sounds like you've heard it all before, on a Nirvana record or even a Sweet 45, but you haven't heard it done with, quite the same amount of breathless abandon and wry, cheeky confidence. Ash fearlessly dive, bungee jump and kamikaze into each song, going straight for the shimmering pearl at, the heart of pop's plastic shell.

Lose Control hits the accelerator with speeding, jack knifing guitars before gliding into the sublime Goldfinger, a song that just seems to shine brighter every time you hold it up to the light. The other hits, Girl From Mars and Angel Interceptor, are here too, jostling nicely for pride of place among the blocky beats of I'd Give You Anything and the lo-fi psychedelia of Gone The Dream. Kung Fu is a frantic flurry of teenage kicks, but Oh Yeah sits back and lets young love deliver a knock out punch. Let It Flow again shows Tim Wheeler's agility with a song structure, laying down solid riffs and then leapfrogging over them with a heavenly hook and a killer line like I'm gonna out shine every star". For a few short, supercharged moments, he almost does.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist