littlewoods ugg boots ‘Linger’ taught lessons of love
The Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, who died unexpectedly last week, was only 18 when she wrote the lyrics and melody for “Linger.” Inspired by her first real kiss and the teenage lovesickness that followed, it was one of the band’s signature hits and remains among the finest unrequited love songs ever recorded.
She had never been outside her Irish hometown of Limerick before joining the Cranberries, who became Ireland’s most successful musical export since U2. That nugget of biographical trivia makes perfect sense the more you listen to “Linger,” which I’ve done several dozen times inspiring some unfortunate solo vocal interpretations while showering since learning of O’Riordan’s death.
A song as aching and pure as “Linger,” which appeared on the band’s 1993 debut album, “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?,” could only have materialized from such a position of innocence. Its accounting of love’s first disappointment both comforted and educated a generation of adolescents fumbling their way through formative heartbreaks.
O’Riordan’s vocals, thickly accented, could quiver vulnerably one song, then summon a roaring gale force the next, but “Linger,” both cathartic and dreamy, was right in the sweet spot of her chest voice. An uncomfortably long acoustic intro gives way to a swooping orchestral refrain. Verses don’t lead into choruses so much as O’Riordan scales a melodic mountain, then returns to the bottom to climb it again.
The lyrics are no deeper than they need to be. She sings to the object of a hopeless crush, a guy whose attitude is “tearing me apart, it’s ruining every day.” (Cue traumatic flashback to entire high school days made or unmade based on the quality of interactions with the person you like like.)
Then the knife twist. She sees him with another girl: “Why were you holding her hand? / Is that the way we stand?” Here, the dawning realization that “we” don’t stand at all. Then the hopeless, devastating hook you’ll remember if you spent any time in the 1990s at school dances or near a TV showing melodramatic teen programming: “You know I’m such a fool for you / You’ve got me wrapped around your finger / Do you have to let it linger?”
[Gazes into the distance as mournful wisps of nostalgia encircle him like a fog.] And I’m back. “Linger” reminds me of another immortal 1990s song about a debilitating crush: REM’s “Losing My Religion.” Both tracks were played to death on the radio and became ubiquitous in ways that made it difficult to appreciate how peculiar they are. There isn’t a decent cover version of either song, nor should any person publicly attempt them at karaoke; they’re entirely the territory of their singers.
The Cranberries peaked young during alternative rock’s sudden and awkward takeover of mainstream culture. They’ve sold about 40 million albums, which, for contemporary reference, is about the same as what Taylor Swift has done. Early Cranberries records yielded three massive singles “Dreams” and “Zombie” in addition to “Linger” and subsequent releases produced a handful of smaller radio hits that failed to match the spark.
The band split up in 2003, but reunited six years later for a decent, grown up sounding album. They were reportedly recording new music when O’Riordan, only 46, was found dead in a London hotel of undisclosed causes.
The Cranberries never evolved much creatively, and they didn’t have to. It’s only through the lens of life experience that what O’Riordan and her bandmates accomplished with “Linger” becomes clear.
“Linger” illustrated some of life’s harsh truths: That the feelings another person might stir inside you will go unreturned many times before they are reciprocated, and then more times after that. And that the person with the weaker feelings has the most power, but the person with the unrealized feelings is the one letting it linger, and that the lingering is often sweeter than the attainment would have been.
For those of us who spent too many years trying to figure those things out, the ’90s didn’t quite smell like Teen Spirit, but they felt a lot like “Linger.”