It wasn't necessarily divine intervention, but the sudden reunion of the Celtically inclined Cranberries after nearly seven years apart did have lofty origins. It all started in early 2008, explains gale-forced frontwoman Dolores O'Riordan, when she was awarded an Honorary Patronage at Dublin's Trinity College Philosophical Society and invited to play a couple of songs at the ceremony. For backup, she phoned her old bandmates — guitarist Neil Hogan and his bassist brother Mike — and the impromptu gig proved enjoyable for all involved.
"So this summer I had my second solo record coming out [No Baggage], and my son had his confirmation," says the mother of four, who again invited the Hogans, plus original Cranberries drummer Fergal Lawler, to come celebrate. It proved a vital wake-up call.
"The guys came with their wives and their 11 kids, and it was strange seeing all these kids that I'd never met," recalls O'Riordan, who had just announced a solo No Baggage tour. "They were all small babies or hadn't been born yet the last time the band was together. A whole new generation had come up, and I was thinking 'My God — time's moving on! And we are not getting any younger!' So we all talked about it, had a few jars, and finally said 'Let's do it! Let's do a reunion!'"
And yes, Cran fans, the current comeback juggernaut will feature classic hits like "Linger," "Zombie" and "Ridiculous Thoughts," all delivered in O'Riordan's unmistakable blustery, brogue-inflected style. But will it all lead to a new sixth album from the group?
"It could happen," says the singer. "If the new material we come up with sounds good and different, we're gonna go for it. But if the chemistry's not there, it's not there. And I think we'll know ourselves whether or not it's gonna happen, so we're kinda winging it for now."
The live shows will also feature material from O'Riordan's new solo album, her most insightful to date. From the opening "Switch Off the Moment," which features the grim passage "Some mental anguish in my head / Wake me up, I am not dead," tracks like "Skeleton," "Lunatic" and "Tranquilizer" just keep getting darker. O'Riordan says the songs were all written over a year-and-a-half period of deep introspection at her secluded log cabin up in Ontario.
"As you get older, I think it's good to open up and acknowledge that everybody has had their scary moments, their negative experiences," reckons the composer, who also finds catharsis in oil painting. "And in order to move on and find comfort and hope, you actually have to learn to stop running from the darkness and face it. Because when you face it, it's really not that scary at all. And sometimes the darkness actually turns around and runs away."
The solitude of O'Riordan's wilderness retreat helped the songwriting process: "Bored is good — it's great to get bored and be stuck with yourself. You get to know yourself a lot better that way."
This zenlike attitude even extends to the Cranberries breakup. "I guess all bands get to that point where they run out of inspiration, and we'd lost that chemistry. The excitement went out of it. So taking a hiatus was a really good idea. It's made it all fresh again."