I remember the first time I heard the song "Salvation" by the Cranberries. It sticks in my mind more than 20 years later because it was a Sunday morning and, uncharacteristically, I wasn't in church (don't judge, fellow Catholics -- I was planning to attend the 4:30 Mass at St. Theresa's that afternoon). Yet on this particular Sunday morning, over the ordinary commercial radio, came an energetic song preaching about the evils of drug use with a refrain about how "Salvation is real".
I recognized the sound of The Cranberries instantly -- and of course, it was the vocal effects of Dolores O'Riordan that stood out most.
The Cranberries don't rank as one of the core acts in alternative rock, at least not like Nirvana or the Red Hot Chili Peppers or the Stone Temple Pilots. But they do qualify as a band that was essential to making the genre. A true genre, as I think of it, needs a foundational set of performers who set the definitions -- but it also needs artists who push out the boundaries, testing how far the genre can bend before it breaks.
The Cranberries might not have reached the outer envelope of "alternative", but when O'Riordan brought the power of a chant (as in "Dreams") or took it right up to the line of a screech (as when she howled "What's in your head?" in "Zombie"), you knew you weren't just dealing with the Seattle Sound. And that wasn't just rock -- it was art. And, to borrow a line from "Dreams", it was impossible to ignore.
It is untimely that Dolores O'Riordan has departed this life, another artist gone too soon. May she rest in peace.