Dolores O’Riordan had a beautiful voice. That’s indisputable. The melancholy of ‘In the End’ lies in the words she wrote into the song and the way she sang them. The melancholy is doubled for us now because of her tragic death in 2018.
If you’re going to cover In the End, listen to the way Dolores sings the t and d sounds. She softens, slows and widens them, then flavours them with sadness. You can hear it especially clearly in the first lines, as she sets up the mood of the song: Ain’t it strange/When everything you wanted/Was nothing that you wanted.
‘T’ and ‘d’ are sounds that singers often use to build a mood. Think of Laura Marling here or Desmond Dekker here. The way you sing ‘t‘ or ‘d’ shapes the vowel that comes before or after it. Listen to Dolores’ vowel sounds – how she sings emotion into them. The ‘a’ of ‘strange’ has the lightness of memory to it – she sings the word as if she’s having a conversation and remembering as she sings. This isn’t a definite statement of strangeness, it’s a noticing and a self-questioning.
A different way of singing ‘strange‘ – listen to Jim Morrison breathing shapes into the word as it changes its meaning from observation to celebration throughout People Are Strange:
Watch Dolores sing the word ‘wanted’ as a quick criticism in her song Wanted. The vowel sounds have none of the melancholy of wanted as she sings it in In the End. Instead she sings the word more quickly, with matter-of-fact vowel sounds. The t and d sounds are brisk:
All words will dance for you, if you pay them the proper attention. Dolores O’Riordan was a masterful, honest singer and songwriter.
One journalist recalled how, when talking about a new song she was working on, she was suddenly overcome with the emotion of the song and burst into tears, and retreated to the toilet for 15 minutes to collect herself.
One last thing: if you’re going to cover her songs, listen hard. If English isn’t your first language, beware the soft ‘th’ Dolores sings. She’s singing the Irish th of her hometown of Ballybricken in County Limerick. It is a more complex sound than the American/British th. Don’t sing the sound as a thick ‘d’. It isn’t a ‘d’. It isn’t a simple thick ‘t‘ sound either -even if that’s what you think you’re hearing. Listen carefully and watch the position of her tongue and lips as she sings this and there in Wanted.
More background to the posthumous album:
© Sing Better English 2019