Who walks down to the sea in the morning to sit in the long grass, and then rhymes “sea” with…“sea”? Dolores O’Riordan, that’s who. Obscured by The Cranberries’ lush, ornate arrangements, her lyrics always carried the illusion of import, but as the band’s music got more hard-edged and political, O’Riordan’s words got more and more cringe-inducing. “It’s so thought-provoking, so emotion-evoking,” she sings on her solo debut, Are You Listening?, without achieving either of those things. It’s easy to forget that English is not a second language to the Ireland-born O’Riordan. Like most of the album, lead single “Ordinary Day” sounds like a super-varnished Cranberries song, and her lyrical weaknesses become even more visible through the spit-polished sheen, revealing one horribly banal couplet after the next, some of which don’t even rhyme. While O’Riordan’s voice (a facsimile of Sinead O’Connor’s fragile brogue) and her conviction are what carried much of The Cranberries’ output, the songs that work best here are the ones that sound least like those of her former band, and the best moments are the most unexpected ones: the shamrock trip-hop of “Human Spirit”; the arena rock of “Stay With Me”; and “In The Garden,” with its bouncy keyboard, pizzicato strings, electronic programming, abrupt key changes, and explosive electric guitars. “Black Widow” opens with a dainty classical piano melody and ethereal vocals before bursting into an Evanescence-style climax and then disintegrating into a creepy Christmas nightmare. O’Roirdan might be a few years late to the goth-metal party, but it’s a sound that suits her well—and one she may very well have influenced. The album’s biggest misstep is “Loser,” which, though unexpected, is also incredibly ugly (“Die, loser, die!” she sings repeatedly toward the end). To answer the album’s titular query: yes, but I’d advise listeners not to pay attention to the lyrics.
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