Cranberries guitarist/songwriter Noel Hogan sounds surprisingly carefree as he ponders the expectations that surrounded the band after its million-selling debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, made the group one of modern rock's brighter hopes.

"We just get on with what we have to do because, like, the world has enough rock stars in it already. It doesn't need any more," Hogan says. "There's no use in getting all worried about everything and then starting to take it all very seriously and believe that you're something that you're not. Tomorrow, if we woke up and we couldn't write one more song, that would be it. No one would care anymore and they'd forget about you.

"If you can write songs that you feel are good songs, that is all that should matter, and not worry about pressure, about is this going to happen, is that going to happen? So we just kind of take everything with a laugh, really, more than anything else."

Hogan has been through the whirlwind of publicity before -- at a time when expectations surrounding the band weren't such a laughing matter. Hogan, his brother Mike (bass) and drummer Feargal Lawlor joined forces with singer Dolores O'Riordan in 1991. The chemistry between songwriter Hogan and lyricist O'Riordan resulted quickly in "Linger." Plaintive and simplistic, the song was the pair's first shot at writing together. Soon, the Cranberries had a batch of songs committed to demo tape, and in mid-1991, had moved from their home base of Limerick, Ireland, to London. There, the demo found its way to the British music press, and the Cranberries were hyped as the latest, greatest band to arrive on the scene -- at a time when they had a mere half-dozen songs to their name and precious little live experience.

"When we did have that first burst of whatever it is, we didn't realize what was happening," Hogan says. "I think, in a way, we thought, 'Well everyone knows about us and we're getting our picture in the newspaper.' And then we realized later on that because of all of this, everyone is expecting us to be brilliant when we were only together a few weeks."

When Everybody Else Is Doing It ... took off behind the hit singles "Linger" and "Dreams," the Cranberries were already buried in the recording of their second CD, having written a batch of songs during the first months of what became an extended 1993-94 tour. "A lot of people have asked us, did we feel a lot of pressure doing the second album?" says Hogan. "But you know, we had the songs, so we weren't worried at all. And they were songs that we liked, so there really wasn't any problem."

The feel-good optimism surrounding their sophomore CD, No Need to Argue, proved to be warranted. The songwriting was sharper, the sound more aggressive in spots and the songs more consistently memorable than on the debut. The CD as a whole still found the Cranberries exploring the kind of atmospheric beauty that characterized Everybody Else Is Doing It ..., but the band displayed unexpected depth when it deviated from that formula. Several of the songs -- particularly "Zombie" and "I Can't Be With You" -- had a harder edge, an outgrowth of the group's approach to playing live, Hogan says.

"Because sometimes some of the songs just sounded kind of sparse and stuff [on CD], doing it live, it doesn't really work," says Hogan. "You've got to kind of put a little bit more edge into it. I think when we did that, and we wrote the new songs on tour, they kind of came out that way. So when we went in to play them in the studio, we just kind of kept that then."

Though the Cranberries matured noticeably on No Need to Argue, they still have room to grow. This is particularly true for O'Riordan, who's still learning how to take full advantage of her skills as a singer. On "Zombie" and "I Can't Be With You," she fell back on the kind of swooping and quivering vocal acrobatics she had employed on earlier songs such as "Dreams." The second time around, the results sounded somewhat contrived -- not to mention repetitive. But then there were the transcendent moments, such as on "Twenty One," where O'Riordan's voice displayed a shimmering beauty, and on "Ridiculous Thoughts," where she raised the urgency of her vocals to favor character over volume, emotion over gimmickry.

No Need to Argue received plenty of notice for the political slant of its first single, "Zombie," in which O'Riordan sang in a bitter snarl of the violence in Northern Ireland. But most of the CD's songs centered on a more familiar topic for the young singer: love. Often, the emotions weren't at all pleasant, as on "I Can't Be with You" or "Daffodil Lament," two songs that explored the frustration of a fracturing romance.

"A lot of it, I suppose, would have stuff to do with the guy she was going with before," Hogan says, explaining that many of the songs were written following O'Riordan's split with a boyfriend. "That's kind of how she expresses it, I suppose, is through the songs."

More recently, O'Riordan's fortunes have brightened. While on the road with Duran Duran in 1993, she met Duran tour manager Don Burton. The relationship blossomed into marriage, an event, Hogan says, that has improved the atmosphere within the band.

"Nothing's really changed because she's more like a sister to us, you know," Hogan says. "We just kind of ... we always look out for each other, all of us. We still do. If anything, it's just made Dolores happier, really. She's kind of got this constant smile on her face and stuff."

The Cranberries perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 25 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Tickets are $19 to $28. Toad the Wet Sprocket and Willy Porter open. For info, call 629-3700.

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Alan Sculley