“Applying ‘The Grunge Rule’ to The Cranberries Toward a Possibly Pointlessly but Doubtlessly Amusing Semantic Argument That ‘Linger’ is Their Best Song”

Obviously, semantic arguments as to which is a band’s best song are generally pretty stupid, as music is enjoyed with the right brain and the specific acts, songs or parts of songs with which someone connects are completely variable on the individual and could come in as many shapes and sizes as there are people on the planet. And you know what, I bet they do. 

But God da** are we in an epidemic these days of only hearing one song, respectively, by all these different bands. Some prime examples would be “Take Me out” by Franz Ferdinand and “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains, as well as, among countless others, “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle and, shockingly, “Zombie” by The Cranberries. Man, when I was growing up there were a solid seven or eight different Cranberries songs you’d hear on the radio, on MTV, at parties, in record stores or what have you — “Dreams”; “Free to Decide”; “When You’re Gone”; “Ode to My Family”; “Salvation”; “Linger”; etc., etc. Actually, the whole malady has turned in on itself and the monster has started eating its own hand: I actually saw a meme or whatever it was saying how annoying it was to have a Cranberries song “In your head / In your head”, an obvious reference to the overplayed and overrated “Zombie” that, again, absurdly, stands as the band’s sole bastion connecting it with the world on radio these days, for all intents and purposes. I mean, I even remember hearing “Linger” in the movie Camp Nowhere and thought that would surely cement it as the best Cranberries song… it was actually a pretty cool scene of this sensitive dude having an amorous little conference with a local coed of interest. 

Anyway, basically, toward eventually getting to my ephemeral, hazy point, the “grunge rule” I mention above is that, basically, it’s a brand of music entirely predicated on the annhiliation of the self, and, more or less, its artistic quality is directly proportional to its ostensibly suicidal themes and fabric and, by this logic, the best grunge bands would be the ones that most quickly killed themselves. Nirvana would obviously be the best grunge band of all time and their lyrics were obviously pretty grim and self-defeating, so the rule surely stands up at this point. 

It would follow, then, along these lines, that the best grunge SONGS would be the most suicidal, with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” rife with hopeless irony and surrender, “Lithium” mentioning homicide (brother-sister crime to suicide, maybe), in the chorus, “Heart-Shaped Box” originally entitled “Heart-Shaped Coffin” [1] and “All Apologies” as well standing at a sort of precipice of hopelessness and impasse. Unfortunately, then, Dolores O’Riordan, whose death I don’t think was officially ruled a suicide but has gathered everything short of that in terms of surrounding storylines and implications, and having gone the same way as every major grunge singer except Eddie Vedder [2] [3], would, logically, pertain to the same paradigm of her best songs being the most suicidal. And sure “Linger” isn’t overly self-destructive or noxiously loathing of the self but it does paint a sort of maligned, strained picture O’Riordan’s mental landscape, one corroborated in a sense by “Dreams,” another song of romantic pining that got fewer streams on Spotify than “Linger” (you can hear why on a close listen, really). “Free to Decide” is a notable firebrand within The Cranberries’ catalog, without any question, and, on an unrelated but troubling note, contains what would in otherwise be the uplifting message “I’m free to decide / And I’m not so suicidal after all”. She mentions politics in this song as well as in “Zombie,” more or less, with the latter’s references to “their tanks / And their bombs / And their guns” and though she certainly means well I think that all of us who are really embedded in our music know that personal matters, rather than big-picture, cultural ones, make for the best songs. Music isn’t semantic. Grunge is built on “I feel stupid / And contagious / Here we are now / Entertain us” and while of course this is meant as tongue-in-cheek, it would never be confused with a statement that’s making some sort of conscious effort to convey a political or ideological method, other than, like, you should kill yourself because you’re an object in the spatial realm of the universe. “Ode to My Family” is a gem and has been fairly popular but seems to lose focus with the illusion of comfort and warmth juxtaposed with the awkward, repeated interrogative “Does anyone care? / Does anyone care?”, etc. “Linger,” on the other hand, institutes a seamless, continual message of complete frustration and heartbreak, not completely unakin to Bjork’s seminal and centralized “Human Behaviour” track that typfied the raw, honest ’90s. The “Zombie” track is honestly pretty effective and in a way you can see why it would be more popular than “Linger” in karaoke sessions and man-made playlists, because it does try to convey a message, and, maybe unfortunately, actually encapsualte a sociological, or psychological, landscape beholden to our species in this modern age. But O’Riordan never repeated it: the zombie theme is a novelty theme meant mainly as stopgap subject matter and a catchy, chic issue when really the main problem we all feel is loneliness or ennui. The truth hurts and the truth is unavoidable and the paradigmatic makeup in “Linger” aligns itself fairly well with “Dreams,” another song of longing with this almost quintessential O’Riordan inferiority complex. It’s a song depicting a love interest’s attitude that’s “ruining every day” and, as with so much emotion that gets sublimated into music, is probably more valid than “Zombie” for its proliferation of semantic likenesses. I would like to close this article by insisting that I mean no disprespect to O’Riordan or anybody battling self-esteem issues: in fact what I’m trying to do is pay full respect to this sort of underdog tune that’s pitted against quite a cultural Goliath these days, and ensure that O’Riordan’s and The Cranberries’ work are still touching and enriching at least one life, to this day, out of the great semi-autonomous cluster. 


[1] This info comes courtesy of the handy-dandy Nirvana: The Biography by Everett True which I thoroughly recommend. 


[2] Chris Cornell died by suicide and Layne Staley technically didn’t but did die by way of something he was habitually doing to himself and which isn’t typically associated with being a shiny happy person holding hands. 


[3] I realize I’m glossing over Pearl Jam here… while I thoroughly adore that band I lump them in in a sense with “classic rock” as their primary “style,” aside from the radio rock format, is guitar soloing very much in the spirit of Eddie Van Halen or David Gilmour. 

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