In today’s musical climate, a group of mathematicians could likely conceive an equation for determining the approximate amount of time it will take any given popular band to release an album of acoustic renditions of their greatest hits. ‘Unplugged’ records are almost as much of a staple in a rock group’s discography as compilations or live albums, and there’s nothing entirely wrong with this. Certain artists’ acoustic albums have been enshrined in their back-catalogue as essential listening, with Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance of About a Girl being far more widely recognised and appreciated than its original version from their debut album, just as Eric Clapton’s Unplugged was released to a level of positive critical reception that the guitarist had only experienced a handful of times previously. Outside of a few exceptionally notable examples, however, most of which just so happen to have been released as part of the MTV Unplugged series, LPs consisting solely of acoustic reworkings of songs previously released by an artist typically exist as a means of giving fans something to chew on whilst a studio album of all-new material is in the works, or sometimes to mark a momentous occasion, such as the anniversary of the band’s formation or of the release of their breakout record. As a result, such releases are seldom met with the same amount of coverage as a fully-fledged studio album of fresh songs from the artist, and Something Else, the unplugged, seventh record from Celtic rock darlings The Cranberries, is no exception to this trend. Arriving half a decade following the unveiling of the band’s 2012 comeback album, Roses, it seems as if Something Else may have been released partially as a status report to express that the Irish rockers are indeed still active. The presence of three new compositions in the tracklisting, however, perhaps suggests that The Cranberries had been struggling to write an entire record’s worth of album-worthy material, but wanted to release these three specific songs nonetheless, so dropped them as part of an entirely acoustic project. This being said, Something Else is also somewhat of a celebratory album, marking the silver jubilee of the release of The Cranberries’ first single, Dreams, with the album cover being a recreation of that of the band’s sophomore LP, No Need to Argue. As one could probably infer from its background, Something Else isn’t a record intended to shape the nature of The Cranberries’ legacy or revamp their greatest hits into completely transformed masterpieces, but this undertaking features an admirable selection of successfully reworked songs. Although the group’s reliance on the same Celtic folk formula, which drives practically all of these unplugged versions of old songs, makes for an incredibly one-dimensional release, many of these renditions breathe a new, more organic life into these classics from The Cranberries, and are often rather captivating in their austere simplicity.
Something Else was recorded in the space of a fortnight in The Cranberries’ hometown of Limerick with the help of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, and the result is an album that stands as perhaps the most definitively Irish in the band’s discography. Singer Dolores O’Riordan has always maintained a definite Irish twang to her vocal inflection, but this tone of voice is brought to the forefront and potently fortified when set against the backdrop of lavish, idyllic string arrangements recurrent throughout the tracklisting. Take the opening track from Something Else, for instance, a revised version of The Cranberries’ first major hit, Linger, in which the acoustic string arrangement remains largely unchanged from the original, with the major difference between the two renditions purely arising from the stripped-back nature of this newer version. The raw quality of the recording on Something Else elevates O’Riordan’s singing to a much more prominent position in the mix, having less instrumentation to compete with, in such a way that emphasises the frontwoman’s rich accent and slight nasal element to her voice that enlivens the song with a distinctly Irish quality. This is perhaps even more true of the updated version of Dreams, which replaces the jangly electric guitar lines of the original for duelling violins that carry the song’s lead melody. Here, O’Riordan’s beautifully harmonised vocals retain a dreamy, breezy air to them that elegantly reinforces the way in which the delicate strings lift them above the lush timbre of the track. With the fuzzed-out, grungy guitars of Zombie traded for the acoustic guitar and string-driven inflection of Something Else, The Cranberries’ defining protest song assumes a ballad-like hue that lends itself well to the emotional urgency of the lyrical subject matter. Similarly, the remodelled version of When You’re Gone that appears on this album is strangely more dynamic than the original, despite its use of acoustic instrumentation, with this change largely being derived from O’Riordan’s more palpably impassioned vocal performance. Indeed, the extent to which The Cranberries manage to rework their most distinguished hits into an entirely acoustic format is achieved with an impressive amount of consideration for how these songs should be best tailored towards this format. At the best of times, therefore, the group revitalises these tunes in a way that is charmingly rustic and, perhaps most importantly, categorically Irish.
The three entirely new compositions can be given a great deal of credit for how seamlessly they cohere with the rest of Something Else, blending in amongst the reworked classics on a sonic and stylistic level with no apparent hitches whatsoever. The extent to which they flaunt the best of The Cranberries’ compositional chops, however, is not quite so clear-cut. The first of the new trio, The Glory, is undoubtedly the most successfully acclimatised to the general aesthetic of Something Else, with the intertwining string arrangements soaring above the simple acoustic guitar strumming in a similar fashion to the surrounding cuts in the tracklisting. Its fitting position on the album extends far beyond superficial characteristics, however, primarily due to O’Riordan’s similar ear for sweet, melancholic melodies to that of her 90s self, making The Glory instantly recognisable as a song by The Cranberries upon first listen. The same could be said of the last of the new trio, Why, but this is largely as a result of how closely it adheres to the motifs of the band’s biggest hits. Whispers of O’Riordan’s vocal melody across this song, for example, read very similarly to certain parts of Zombie, whilst the fluttering strings are arranged in a way that is surely comparable to the arrangement featured on Linger. What’s more, I can’t help but feel that this is all indicative of the major shortcoming of Something Else, that being its rather narrow nature when it comes to any sort of stylistic variation. Indeed, with every single song in the tracklisting, new or old, following a largely cut-and-dried formula of bright acoustic guitars, soaring string sections and sentimental crooning from the band’s frontwoman, it’s easy to see that Something Else may lack replay value for some.
Ultimately, the sheer focus with which The Cranberries approach the revisions of their classic hits on Something Else is the key point of the album’s appeal and, indeed, its success. The beautiful, folksy soundscapes boasted throughout the entirety of the record’s runtime, courtesy of how gracefully O’Riordan’s traditional Irish lilt is woven into the Irish Chamber Orchestra’s luscious arrangements, makes for an undeniably pleasing listening experience, and one that captures the essence of the band’s roots more so than any other release of theirs thus far. With all this being said, however, it’s a shame that Something Else is so glaringly one-note, to the point that its magic is somewhat fleeting. Past the point in the tracklisting wherein the group has sung all of their biggest singles, the obedience to the Celtic folk formula that remains unchanged throughout the entirety of the album starts to become overtly apparent, with some tracks towards the backend of the record being unduly overshadowed as a result. Overall, even if Something Else is lacking in satisfying diversity, The Cranberries’ attitude towards reworking the classics of their heyday is so exquisitely refined that the album, at the very least, illuminates the history of the group and their cultural background with a new, more cultivated light.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10