Dokken – Broken Bones (2012)

Posted: October 2, 2012 in Music

When hair metal ruled the earth back in the 1980s, any band with enough hairspray and spandex seemed to have a hit song or album that defined the genre. After the dust settled and the popularity faded out, a few of the bands stuck around for the after party and continued to release albums and tour, giving the scene a least a little bit of a pulse moving forward. Those bands, though, were decidedly the “best-of-the-best” from the heyday. Motley Crue still sells out arenas worldwide, Bon Jovi is arguably more popular now than they ever were, and bands such as Poison, Whitesnake, Ratt, and the Scorpions continue to please audiences around the globe. Another of those acts that somehow have defied the odds and have continued to persevere is Dokken.

But Dokken’s story is a bit more unusual than most. The original line-up is a distant memory, as only drummer Mick Brown and founder/lead vocalist Don Dokken remain – which has segregated the masses a bit. You see, when Dokken was selling fuckloads of albums, it was largely in part to the absolute brilliance of former lead guitarist George Lynch. Still touted as one of rock’s most prolific axemen, Lynch left the band in 1989 (although he did briefly rejoin the band for the ill-fated Dysfunctional release in 1994). Since then, he formed his own band – Lynch Mob – and seemed to be happy disassociating himself from his former allegiance.

Metal purists, however, haven’t given Dokken much of a chance since Lynch’s departure. Sure, there have been albums since, but none have seemed to recapture the style and power the band once had. Don Dokken has been seemingly cursed, with each release being compared to the Lynch-era Dokken – which seemed a little unfair to me. Were they great albums? No, but they didn’t really deserve the disregard and harsh criticism most of the media gave them. Towards the late 2000’s it really felt like something had to give, or else Dokken was pretty much done.

When the rumor mill exploded with anticipation of a Lynch/Dokken reunion in 2010 (which was fueled by both members appearing together on VH1’s “That Metal Show”), my ears – along with a nation of metal-heads around the world – pricked up to attention. The rumor of Lynch (and former bassist Jeff Pilson) returning to the fold was quickly dispelled, however, Lynch stated (via his website) in late 2010 that “We feel it’s important to let folks know there will be no Dokken reunion in the foreseeable future, if ever. This is Don’s decision, despite Jeff’s and my best intentions and efforts over the past few years to make this happen in good faith. My apologies to VH1, Eddie Trunk, Steve Strange and all the fans who were pulling for this to happen.”

At this point, I was sure that Dokken – as a band – was done. My guess was that Don was going to release a few more solo albums (he has already released two), and quietly fade off into oblivion.

Don Dokken had different ideas, apparently. With or without Lynch, he intended to carry on. The end result is the band’s eleventh studio release – Broken Bones – which was released September 25th, 2012. The album is being distributed by Frontiers Records, which has started to make a name for itself of late, releasing albums from many of the eras heavyweights (Warrant, Great White, and Trixter – to name a few).

Dokken releasing an album isn’t huge news, though. There has been a certain arrogance and attitude from Don over the last 30 years that almost made this release inevitable after the failed reunion attempt. But releasing an album is one thing – releasing a GOOD album is another…

The simple, almost juvenile album cover didn’t exactly make me think this was going to be anything special, but I’ve known from past experience that judging a book by it’s cover is a huge mistake – so let’s track-by-track this effort before we draw any conclusions.

The opening riff on the album (from the first single, “Empire”) made me immediately take notice, and took me back to the Back For The Attack days. Guitarist Jon Levin has been with the band for almost a decade now, but here – for the first time – it seems he has stepped out of the shadow of the Lynch controversy and decided to melt the paint off the walls. To the unknowing, it would be asy to think that is actually Lynch ripping the strings apart – and that sound can’t be a bad thing moving forward.

The CD’s title track, “Broken Bones” isn’t exactly a ear-splitter, as it softens things down a bit – but Dokken has always played these type of tracks well, and this is no exception. In fact, these dialed-down tracks have always been a Dokken trademark, and while the cut may not have the bite of, say, “Dream Warriors,” it still sounds solid and tight throughout.

One of the biggest knocks on Don Dokken these days is his declining vocal range. Granted, he still sounds like Don Dokken, but I can attest from a couple of live performances I caught over the last few years that he definitely is restricted from hitting the “high-notes” from much of the band’s back catalog. The complaints, however, seem a bit ridiculous, as Don has channeled in what he can sing, and has upped the ante from a songwriting standpoint. Such us the case with “Best of Me.” Don stays safely within his octaves, but pounds out one of the albums better tracks. The blues-influenced guitars and powerful drums accent a well-written track from every angle. Dokken may not be able to sing high notes, but he throws in enough sharp and flat notes along the way that you hardly miss them.

The ballsy “Blind” fills the speakers with swagger and style from the opening intro to the last night. Lyrically, it’s a love song – but there are so many sexy guitar fills that you can’t help but nod – if not bang – your head along to the beat. The solos here (and there are a couple here) are thick and heavy, and again really showcase Levin’s improvement.

THe stop and go pattern of “Waterfall” almost loses its identity and becomes a Led Zepplin clone, but Don’s soothing vocals keep it feeling pretty fresh. It’s a little different from what I’ve ever herd from the band, but I have a feeling it will grow on me over time.

With a far more steady, dedicated pace “Victim of the Crime” makes itself memorable with tempo and simplicity. In typical fashion, though, even the slower songs have some excellent riffs and drum fills. Halfway through the album, and there is little doubt that the album is exceeding expectations. It’s tight, it’s loud, and it’s definitely Dokken’s best effort in a very, very long time. Then again, we are only half way home…

There have been a couple of tracks so far that have been a little slower than usual, but not until “Burning Tears” do we get a real ballad. It is, surprisingly, another of the album’s standout tracks. The composition and delivery are flawless, and it gives just enough punch to keep it metal. Another great solo towards the end. George who?

“Today” sticks with the ballad theme set by the previous track. For me, it wasn’t nearly as impressive. We do get a glimmer of Don expanding the height of his vocals, but outside of that, there wasn’t much here for me. Again, maybe it will grow on me – but its lack of any lyrical depth or instrumental complexity made it pretty stale on the first few listens.

About this time I was forced to recall so many sporting events I have witnessed, where any given team would absolutely look like champions for the first two quarters, only to get complacent and boring in the second half. Just in time is “For The Last Time,” which picks the pace back up (even after a dubious intro) and gets the speakers back to trembling. It does have some modestly quiet moments – but for the most part, the cut hammers away at all things Dokken does well. Great harmonies carry the song, as does an emphatic performance on drums.

“Fade Away” has a indescribable vibe to it. So much so that I can only say that it will probably remind you more of older Dokken songs than anything else on the album. Normally, that would be a good thing, but I think this album has come so far in regards to the re-emergence of the band that this feels a little played out. Not to say it’s bad – it just felt like, with a little more energy, could have been another standout track on a better-than-good album.

Rarely does an album save the best for last, but in this instance “Tonight” proves to be the penultimate closer. It’s faster, harder and heavier than anything on the disc, and is definitely the crown jewel on a pretty shiny crown. If nothing else, it gives the listener a temporary goodbye on what will undoubtedly be the first of many new albums to come from the Dokken camp.

For me, this was a pretty epic win for Don Dokken and the gang. With so much attention to the continuing Lynch saga, this album needed to be a home run – and it was. Of the grand-slam variety. Moving forward, I think fans and critics alike will look at Dokken with some reinvigorated attitude, and hopefully see the band as who they now are, and not what they have (or could have) been. Dokken is back, and with a vengeance.

8.5/10

Tracklist:
01 – Empire
02 – Broken Bones
03 – Best of Me
04 – Blind
05 – Waterfall
06 – Victim of the Crime
07 – Burning Tears
08 – Today
09 – For the Last Time
10 – Fade Away
11 – Tonight

Buy at Amazon

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