The Cranberries take their down-to-earth reputation seriously, but not literally. ''I wasn't going to go into that mud!'' laughs diminutive singer Dolores O'Riordan, 23, recalling the Irish quartet's Woodstock '94 performance this summer. ''For me, it was just a gig where a few people at the front knew the Cranberries. I mean, we're not exactly Metallica, you know?''
No, they're not. But after the double-platinum success of their alterna-lite debut, last year's Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, the Cranberries have become America's favorite Irish band without a numeral in their name. But the predictable hype coloring their just-released second disc, No Need to Argue (which debuted at No. 12 on the pop chart), should hardly faze the frighteningly young group, who've jumped through hoopla before.
Offered the cover of Melody Maker in 1990 on the basis of a six-song demo, the four then teens from Limerick nearly drowned in a tidal wave of British overstatement before they were even signed. ''People were coming to the gigs expecting to see what they had heard about the best band ever,'' recalls ! guitarist Noel Hogan, 22. ''And we had some really bad songs.''
Only after dumping their manager and outlasting the hype did the band O'Riordan, Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan, 21 (Noel's brother), and drummer Fergal Lawlor, 23 release Everybody in early 1993. Fortunately, says O'Riordan, ''the first album didn't become successful until the second was practically written.'' And their sound hasn't changed: Aside from the new single, ''Zombie'' which runs O'Riordan's lilt up against a rough-edged guitar No Need hews closely to Everybody's saccharine sheen. ''We're just trying to be normal,'' says Hogan. ''We don't want to be grunge, alternative, indie whatever you call it these days.'' And the ''if it ain't broke'' strategy is the best defense against a sophomore hex. ''If (our songs) didn't sell, I'd go back on the dole,'' O'Riordan says, unperturbed. ''Although I don't think it could all go that bad.''