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The Cranberries - Bury the Hatchet (Island Records)

Ireland has a long, rich history of spawning cantankerously idiosyncratic rock stars: Gavin Friday, Sinéad O'Connor, Shane MacGowan (England-borne, but bears his Irish ancestry like a stout-soused shamrock badge). Hell, even U2, at their propulsively slinky best, have an "Edge" to them. And then, there are the Cranberries. The three lads and a lass from Limerick have been manufacturing dependable, solidly melodic pop since 1993's multi-platinum "Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can't We". Of course, dependability has its detriments, the most damning of which is its tendency to repress the sort of spontaneous surprises and unmannered accidents that can elevate ephemeral fluff to lasting, classic status.

The title of their fourth album, "Bury the Hatchet", may or may not reflect the Cranberries' determination to cast the spectacularly shallow stabs at social consciousness of 1996's "For the Faithful Departed" into the abyss of the forever unrecoverable. Abandoning its ill-suited illusions of grandeur, the band gets back to doing what it has always done best: crafting three-and-a-half minute, hook-driven ditties with all the lyrical significance of a child's knackered nursery rhyme, ("Ra la la la la"/"Eh-ee-eh-ee-oh"/"Ma-na-na-na-na", indeed).

Alas, radio-friendly singles 'Animal Instinct' and 'Just My Imagination' are not quite up to the stuff of 'Linger' and 'Dreams'; the former running desperately short of petrol with its endlessly repetitive outro; the latter just a smidge too suggestive of 10,000 Maniacs covering Sixpence None the Richer covering New Order. Which is to say: a palatable pastiche, but pastiche all the same. On the album's two token attempts to crank up the amperage ('Promises', 'Delilah'), singer Dolores O'Riordan comes off more "de-clawed kitten" than "ticked-off tigress", more pretty purr than raucous roar. And while there is little doubt the woman possesses a very pleasant set of pipes, must those pipes be multi-tracked in the same unimaginative ways on every bloody number?

In the final analysis, "Bury the Hatchet", like the bulk of the Cranberries' canon, is simply too timid and smoothly produced to make any kind of lasting impact. No friction: no heat. Not near enough tartness to temper the sweet. Where's that rotter MacGowan when you need him?

Michael Karpinski

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