The Anniversary

No Need To Argue Turns 20

The Cranberries and I go way back. All the way, in fact, to those kinds of memories that linger (yeah, I know) with no distinct images, but more so just some kind of visceral, unknown connection. I think of the Cranberries and I think of the stuff from their debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, and I think of all this music I seem to remember playing in this peripheral, ethereal milieu. Whenever I hear “Dreams” it takes me back to that weird place of actual memory and invented or dreamed memory, a kind of hard-to-grasp collection of colors and ideas more than a particular moment. Right next to that are memories of “Zombie” dropped all along the way, from constantly seeing the video back in 1994, to Andy singing it on The Office. Or, when I lived in Shanghai in 2011, hearing this obnoxious pop interpolation constantly in Shanghai clubs. (It’s by Mohombi, who takes the chorus and makes it so that it asks “Who’s in your head?” instead of “What’s in your head?,” and then he answers with…himself. “Mohombi.” Seriously.

Fittingly, those are more concrete memories for a more concrete song, both in sound and topic. I guess it depends on who you ask, but “Zombie” is probably the Cranberries’ most iconic song. (A lot of random people I talked to about this also knew of “Linger” right away, and I would suspect they’d recognize “Dreams” if they actually heard it, but overall everyone seems to remember “Zombie,” and sort of as a ’90s punchline of sorts, apparently.) Iconic doesn’t equal best, though, and it isn’t hard to find old reviews scattered around the internet making comments about how the grunged-up guitars of “Zombie” don’t play to the band’s strengths, or how it isn’t an effective vehicle for discussing the ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland, or asserting how both these things could perhaps be rooted in the fact that frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan wrote it without guitarist Noel Hogan. Years ago — before I had dug into this band at all — I figured that “Zombie” was indicative of the whole record, that the ethereal Cranberries I had a connection to had gone alt-rock at some point.

That’s not exactly the case with No Need To Argue, which turns 20 years old today. (Though it is with its 1996 follow up, To The Faithful Departed.) “Zombie” is an outlier (hence why reviewers would be able to call it out as an anomaly that supposedly didn’t suit the band’s strengths, despite it becoming a major hit), but what you could say about the album is that it cleans up and tightens a lot of the sounds and structures the band had already employed on their debut. Sharpening the focus wound up producing some gems, like “Yeats’ Grave” or “I Can’t Be With You.” Overall, though, sometimes I listen to No Need To Argue and feel like in that sharpening, the Cranberries lost something.

Perhaps because of this streamlining, I’m not the biggest fan of No Need To Argue. I like it, but I prefer how Everybody Else leans more heavily in a dream-pop kind of realm; I think I always prefer the Cranberries when they sound mysterious and autumnal. This kind of thing, I suppose, is totally dependent on whatever specific memories you accrue or your general leanings aesthetically. I’m not sure that there’s any significant argument in favor of either Everybody Else or No Need To Argue as being clearly the best Cranberries record, and both were significant in terms of making the band who they were in the pop sphere. After a slow start, Everybody Else started to catch on, and along with a re-release of “Linger” and “Dreams,” the band wound up selling a ton of records. Same went for No Need To Argue, but I think the album feels like more of a star-making moment because of how “Zombie” has stuck around, and how it can erroneously suggest the Cranberries had bought into what was the distorted, brooding pop sounds of 1994.

Somewhat on that note: When I was playing No Need To Argue around the apartment in the last few days, my roommates commented on how O’Riordon’s voice is sort of the prototypical voice for ’90s female singer-songwriters. And there’s definitely a lot of that going on, at least in how she finds her way around certain phrases and words. O’Riordon’s singing is obviously one of the foremost elements that define the Cranberries, but prior to writing this article, it had been a while since I returned to the band and really thought about it. She has such a strange way with melodies, structuring them so that they swoop in and out of totally unexpected or unexplained places. She sounds definitively Irish, where many of the contemporaries we were obliquely referencing sounded more affected. She sounds like she’s calling something ephemeral and otherworldly out of the air, and twenty years later her presence remains the most engaging part of No Need To Argue.

That’s not meant to be a slight against the music. Lightly dreamy and lightly jangly guitars is an intersection I definitely have a weakness for, and No Need To Argue being produced by Stephen Street (who produced a lot of their other material as well) would be enough to make me curious for a bit, if I hadn’t been already. But unlike some of the other albums we wind up writing anniversaries about, No Need To Argue could accurately be considered a big album, but less so a particularly classic or crucial one. I’m sure you have your memories about the record and the Cranberries; I certainly do. Mostly, though, it sounds so definitively rooted in its time and place for so many reasons — the sound itself, but also the fact that it would eventually mark the end of the Cranberries’ commercial peak, as they’d continue to plug along, gaining a few hits but not growing into much of an important or influential band in the long run. It seems bizarre to think this can happen to an album that has sold 17 million copies around the world, but returning to No Need To Argue in 2014 doesn’t expose it to be part of much of a larger legacy or narrative for the band or anything else. It belongs more to that murky ephemera of memory, which is still a fine place to belong.

Still, nothing’s ever going to convince me that “Dreams” isn’t far and away the Cranberries’ high point. What about you? What memories of No Need To Argue linger in your head?