Happy 25th Anniversary to The Cranberries’ second studio album No Need To Argue, originally released October 3, 1994.
“Who is this singing?” I asked my friend Kathryn one evening, as she drove us to one of the now entirely forgettable parties up in the Berkeley hills during our sophomore year of high school. The song emanating from the car speakers was “Dreams.” “It’s a new group called The Cranberries,” she replied. “They’re pretty good, aren’t they?”
Yes, indeed, they were great upon hearing them for the first time. So great that—mild but tolerable hangover from the previous night notwithstanding—I rushed out to the revered Rasputin’s record store to pick up their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (1993) the next morning. The disc was never too far away from my CD changer for the better part of the year or so that ensued, and as I became deeply familiar with the twelve songs contained therein, I began to pine for new music from the quartet.
My and millions of the Limerick, Ireland band’s fans’ prayers were answered when they returned in relatively short order with their second studio album No Need To Argue in early October the following year. Upon first listen to the project’s politically charged, guitar-drenched lead single “Zombie,” one would have been forgiven for assuming that frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan, brothers Noel and Mike Hogan, and Fergal Lawler had completely reworked their signature sound for album number two. They would be proven wrong, of course.
Distinguishing their new long player from its breakthrough precursor was important to the band, as evidenced in the artwork selected for the album. “The band was very involved in the nature of the images, and wanted to show the difference in appearance of the band between their debut and this second album,” Cally, the band’s art director, explained in the album’s liner notes. “For [No Need To Argue], we kept everything in colour, and the previous dark backgrounds were replaced by unashamed whiteness.” Consistent with this about-face in aesthetics, frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan swapped her brown locks for a new bleach-blonde ‘do.
Musically speaking, however, No Need To Argue did not diverge too far from Everybody Else Is Doing It. Instead, the thirteen-song set produced by their trusted studio confidante Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur) solidified the group’s strengths as purveyors of melodic, emotive rock-pop of the highest caliber.
Largely written while on tour to support Everybody Else Is Doing It in 1993, No Need To Argue found O’Riordan working through the emotional residue of a recent breakup while grappling with her newfound fame. But she also expanded beyond this introspection to examine the events of the world surrounding her, affording the album a broader thematic composition than its predecessor.
Inspired by the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, England that killed two young boys and injured dozens of others, the aforementioned “Zombie” is an impassioned protest song. It decries all of the nonsensical violence and victimization of the innocent among us inherent to war, and in particular, the protracted debacle of The Troubles that plagued Northern Ireland and its adjacent territories for three decades. “It might make people reflect a bit on our society and what we’ve become,” O’Riordan explained during a November 1994 Los Angeles Times interview. “I know war has been going on for centuries and centuries, but we’re supposed to be getting more civilized.”
As the story goes, Island Records initially attempted to dissuade the band from greenlighting “Zombie” as the first single due to its heavy subject matter, but they ultimately failed to convince a steadfast O’Riordan and her bandmates. Validation for the band arrived soon after the single’s arrival, as despite its cultural and political divisiveness (the BBC refused to broadcast the original video, for instance), it still commanded heavy rotation on radio and MTV, priming No Need To Argue—eventually their best-selling album to date—for commercial success.
“Zombie” was the first of four official singles unveiled from the album, immediately followed by the album-opening “Ode To My Family.” Written upon “suddenly becoming successful and looking back home and wondering where my childhood went,” as O’Riordan reflected to Rolling Stone, the song is a slow and somber yet nostalgia-tinted recollection of her youth that finds her reconciling the hardships of the present with those of her past, and specifically the public’s perception of who she is, as evidenced in the song’s second verse (“Understand what I've become / It wasn't my design / And people everywhere think / Something better than I am”).
O’Riordan—who was just 21 years old when her band’s debut album arrived in March 1993— revisits the relationship between her past and present two songs later on “Twenty One.” The song celebrates the freedom that accompanies the transition from adolescence into adulthood, which can—at least symbolically—protect her from the hardships of the past and help her move on with her life.
The tempo picks up with the third single “I Can’t Be With You,” a regret-ridden breakup song that finds O’Riordan longing for a past love and the history they shared together. It doubles, however, as a declaration of defiance and independence, as she recognizes that the relationship isn’t designed for longevity and she can’t prolong the inevitable, even though she still harbors strong feelings for her partner.
The symphonic “Empty” continues in the same vein, unfolding as a hauntingly beautiful reflection on regret and loss that leads to hollowed-out emotions, a thematic thread that reemerges later on the plaintive “Everything I Said” and “Disappointment.” Not all is doom and gloom throughout No Need To Argue, however, as the endearingly wistful lullaby of a love song “Dreaming My Dreams” is a sanguine, strings-laden dedication to her then-new husband Don Burton, the former tour manager for Duran Duran and The Cranberries’ production manager at the time.
“You wouldn’t believe how many men there are in the music industry who look at a woman in a sexual sense and just want to try it on, to get you into bed,” O’Riordan revealed during a January 1994 Hot Press interview, in describing the impetus behind the fourth and final single “Ridiculous Thoughts.” “Even people that you once respected and that you thought valued you because of your mind, your soul, your talent, end up wanting you for only one thing and that really can be disappointing … And worse some of them want to possess you, which is even more frightening.” The supreme highlight of the album, in my opinion, the song’s ethereal intro segues into charging guitar work upon which O’Riordan showcases her vast vocal range, as she exorcises the disenchantment that comes with encountering deception and betrayal among people you once trusted.
The album’s most affecting moment arrives with “The Icicle Melts,” inspired by the unconscionably tragic 1993 murder of a two-year-old boy (James Bulger) in Liverpool, England. Despite the profound sadness of the song’s subject matter, O’Riordan offers a message of hope and redemption in the chorus, as she sings, “There's a place for the baby that died / And there's a time for the mother who cried / And she will hold him in her arms sometime / 'Cause nine months is too long, too long, too long.”
“We’re not just another pop band,” Lawler insisted to the LA Times shortly after No Need To Argue’s release. “Most pop bands are laughed at; most of them are false people who just want to make money and sell lots of records and that’s all they’re interested in. Then you can go to the other extreme of being so alternative that no one buys your records. Luckily, we’re kind of in the middle. We’re a mix of pop, rock and alternative, I suppose. You can be successful and write really good songs and good music.”
Indeed, the really good songs that comprise No Need To Argue solidified the global success that Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? had primed the band for. Twenty-five years later, it remains one of their finest achievements on wax to date, an essential component of their discography that concluded with last year’s In the End, their final studio album and a fitting epitaph for the late great Dolores O’Riordan.