It's been a long period of quiet for Dolores O'Riordan, the lead singer of the Cranberries. Her band quietly disbanded after the 2001 release of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee and although she didn't disappear, O'Riordan surely wasn't overly active, popping up on music by Angelo Badalamenti and Zucchero but primarily devoting herself to family affairs before she set out to record her solo debut with producer Youth in 2006. Released the following year, Are You Listening sidesteps the turgid proggy inclinations of latter-day Cranberries albums while also avoiding the awkward attempts at hard rock that plagued some of the band's mid-period albums. So, it returns O'Riordan to her strengths: melodic, atmospheric, mildly brooding pop. But Are You Listening isn't exactly a dead ringer for Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? Youth gives this album drama, grandeur, and muscle, so it sounds positively cinematic where early Cranberries was quiet and insular. Of course, this sense of scale is only appropriate for the modern-day Dolores O'Riordan, who has long been a star but where that sense of confidence could turn indulgent on latter-day Cranberries albums, she's now relatively humble and direct, singing songs about family, faith, and nostalgia that sound relatable to fans who have grown up with her and are also facing similar issues. And that's why Are You Listening is a success as a solo debut: it doesn't resurrect O'Riordan's earliest work as much as reconnect with it, and she hasn't sounded this purposeful, or made a record this satisfying, since the days of "Linger."
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine