After the success of their debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We, The Cranberries decided to tackle “serious topics” such as death and abortion on their second album No Need to Argue. Singer Dolores s O’Riordan laments dead family members in “Ode to My Family”; and later contemplates getting older in “21”. With its heavy riff, “Zombie” exploded on the radio in the fall of 1994, and showed that the Cranberries could actually “rock”.
And it did rock, but it was also polished enough to be on the Mix Radio Station that was played on the bus-ride to school. The guitars in the chorus may have had distortion on them, but they never overpowered Dolores O’Riorden’s voice. It also helped that the song was catchy as well. (Who could forget the, “What’s in your head? In your head, zombie, Zombie, Zombie-ey-ey-ey-ey” chorus?) On one bus ride, a friend of mine let borrow his Discman, and a copy of No Need to Argue, and I was surprised to find out that “Zombie” actually had an extended ending that was edited out of the radio.
Even at 13, I had a vague idea of what “Zombie” was about. Even if you knew little about the Irish Troubles, O’Riordan made it clear what her target was decrying their “their tanks, and their guns, and their bombs.” I may not have understood exactly what events she was referring to, but I clearly understood the sentiment.
“Zombie” sounded great in 1994/1995 but time has not been kind to this song. While The Cranberries surely felt a need to take on such topics (like most good Irish bands), 16 years later “Zombie” sounds trite compared to other songs about the same subject. Its title is just plain ridiculous considering the topic, and comparing the IRA to zombies in 2010 comes off as childish, as zombies have become mainstream and commonplace. Perhaps because of O’Riordan’s accent a lot of the lyrics are sound slurred. “Theme” sounds like “team” and you could easily replace “bombs” with “bongs”. Any sense of urgency in the song is automatically lost.
In retrospect, “Zombie” seems like it was written to become The Cranberries’ version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. (Even the guitar riff during the verses uses The Edge’s trademark delays.) “Sunday Bloody Sunday” succeeded because U2 painted a grim picture of the violence contrasting it with religious imagery, and view of non-partisanship. “Sunday Blood Sunday” is not only considered one of U2’s signature songs, it’s also constantly ranked among the best songs of rock. “Zombie” on the other hand faded away, and remains stuck in 1994.