Hear Dolores O’Riordan’s Beautifully-Pained Vocals in the Unplugged Version of The Cranberries’ 1994 Hit “Zombie”

Yes­ter­day, amidst the many trib­utes and inevitable dis­sention over the lega­cy of Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., a sad piece of news seemed to get buried: the death of Cran­ber­ries singer Dolores O’Riordan, at the far-too-young age of 46. The Irish vocal­ist not only “defined the sound of The Cran­ber­ries,” as her NPR obit­u­ary notes, she defined the sound of the 90s. Any­one who remem­bers the decade remem­bers spend­ing a sub­stan­tial part of it with Cran­ber­ries’ hits “Linger,” “Dreams,” and “Zom­bie” loop­ing in their heads.

Just 18 when she audi­tioned for them in 1989, O’Riordan took the band from what might have been rather for­mu­la­ic mopey, jan­g­ly dream­pop and gave it “a smoky hue in full cry” as well as “a sweet, del­i­cate tone that evoked cen­turies of Gael­ic folk tra­di­tion.”

Like anoth­er recent, trag­ic loss from the Gen X heyday—Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell—she ful­ly embod­ied pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty with a voice that was an arrest­ing force. Whether you were a fan or not, you sim­ply had to pay atten­tion.

Lis­ten, for exam­ple, to the band’s 1994 protest song “Zom­bie,” which memo­ri­al­izes two boys killed the pre­vi­ous year in an IRA bomb­ing. It’s a track that “sounds wild­ly anom­alous,” writes Rob Harvil­la at The Ringer, “giv­en the oth­er songs that made her famous.” While the “plod­ding rum­ble” and “crush­ing dis­tor­tion” evoke any num­ber of angsty qui­et-loud anthems of the time, O’Riordan’s “was the last voice you expect­ed to hear howl­ing over it.” The con­trast is haunt­ing, yet the song works just as well with­out fuzzed-out gui­tars and thun­der­ous drums, as in the orches­tral MTV Unplugged ver­sion above.

The “Zom­bie” video offers a clas­sic col­lec­tion of 90s styl­is­tic quirks, from Derek Jar­man-inspired set­pieces to the use of black and white and earnest polit­i­cal mes­sag­ing. For us old folks, it’s an almost pure hit of nos­tal­gia, and for the young, a near­ly per­fect spec­i­men of the decade’s rock aes­thet­ics, which includ­ed a refresh­ing num­ber of famous female solo artists and front­women just as like­ly as the men to dom­i­nate rock radio and tele­vi­sion. Indeed, it seems like the 90s may have pro­duced more promi­nent female-front­ed bands than any oth­er decade before or since. Or maybe I just remem­ber it that way. In any case, cen­tral to that mem­o­ry is Dolores O’Riordan’s “sta­di­um-size hit about dead­ly vio­lence in North­ern Ire­land,” and its beau­ti­ful­ly pained laments and point­ed­ly unsub­tle yelps and wails—a stun­ning expres­sion of mourn­ing that rever­ber­ates still some 25 years lat­er as we mourn its singer’s untime­ly pass­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Soundgarden’s Chris Cor­nell Sings Haunt­ing Acoustic Cov­ers of Prince’s “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U,” Michael Jackson’s “Bil­lie Jean” & Bob Marley’s “Redemp­tion Song”

Prince (RIP) Per­forms Ear­ly Hits in a 1982 Con­cert: “Con­tro­ver­sy,” “I Wan­na Be Your Lover” & More

David Bowie: The Last Five Years Is Now Airing/Streaming on HBO

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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