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Dokken Hell To Pay

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Friday, August 6, 2004 @ 12:38 AM


(Sanctuary)

- advertisement -
Setting: Dokken addresses Toupee as he looks into backstage mirror…

Don: Damn, you look good. Realistic in fact.

Toupee: (Silence…toupee’s don’t talk, dumbass!)

Don: This new album Hell To Pay is just like Tooth And Nail—only more sensitive and without as much guitar.

Toupee: (Slips a little bit to one side which Don interprets as a nod.)

Don: Yeah, this record is even better than A Long Way Home, if you can imagine that. The cover for this new one is actually a student art project. It’s highly conceptual and VERY CHEAP! All the kid wanted in return was a bag of Skittles and a hug.

- advertisement -
Toupee: (Air conditioned breeze fails to lift the follicles realistically. Instead, an unruly puff of air pulls the hair from his head and lifts the clump away before eventually coming to rest near a bowl of stale Cheetos. Something inanimate falls out—might be a water bug.)

Don: Yes, this is the return. I don’t need George Lynch, Jeff Pilson, or their hair… well, the hair might be nice. Dammit, where are my leather pants and that pair of socks? I gotta get on stage!

Anyone who purports to know exactly who is to blame for the famous (or at least semi-famous) Dokken dissolution isn’t being totally honest. It’s doubtless that there is enough blame, immaturity, and in the old days—coke--to go around. How this split has impacted the band’s sound is obvious. Just take a copy of Back For the Attack and crank it up to ten. Then, slam a couple of beers and throw in any disc created by the boys since then, and the effect can be less than satisfying. If Hell To Pay was merely a resumption of the sound evident on Long Way Home, the effects would be disastrous.

The introductory track to this record is entitled “The Last Goodbye” and it’s a midtempo rocker that works in the way vanilla ice cream works on a hot day when slathered over the breasts of a woman who whose tits aren’t very big. Yeah, it may not be your favorite flavor and you may wish you were eating it off of a female who possesses a few more curves and angles to her physique, but still, when it’s placed in front of you, it isn’t anything you would go out of your way to avoid. This is followed up by the fastest tune on this disc “Don’t Bring Me Down,” which is actually a cover of the famous ELO hit—no it isn’t, but it would be cool B-side anyway. Longtime Dokken fans will appreciate this one mostly because John Levin’s guitar work on this is so reminiscent of Lynch’s in both attitude and feel. In addition, Don actually allows his voice to fluctuate a bit, which on this record makes it a bit of an anomaly. On the surface, song number two is the type of classic metal song that was missing on Long Way Home. The only problem comes if you make the mistake of listening to the lyrics present in the chorus, “If you want me to play in your garden, then don’t bring me down.”

Huh? If “garden” is a euphemism for “pussy,” then I guess I understand what he’s talking about—it just seems like such an odd lyric to be present in a song that is as sonically powerful as this one. Couple that with the fact that I can’t get the mental image of a leather clad Dokken dancing around doing pirouettes in a field full of lilies out of my mind, and what you have is a big distraction. Disturbing.

“Escape” may be the best selection on this disc. Here, the band brings it back down a notch, but instead of the sound boring the listener, this tune does a great job of building up to a chorus that’s as catchy and accessible as anything that Dokken has done in years. If this were 1988, this song would be an instant classic. Vintage Dokken. The follow up is entitled “Haunted” which possesses a quality guitar intro, but it sounds like Don keeps singing “Horny” instead the title of the track. Maybe it really does sound like that… or maybe it just says something about my mindset. I don’t know—you decide.

“Prozac Nation,” “Better Off Before” and “Can You See” are the best remaining selections with songs like “Still I’m Sad,” “I Surrender” and “Letter To Home” being the type of vocally one-dimensional disappointment that will cause listeners to remember Long Way Home. Hell To Pay concludes with an unplugged version of the tune “Care For You,” which appears earlier in this offering in its regular state as track number five. Of course, this is a ballad and of course the lyrics address the lovelorn, but it is also the type of song that Don relishes in producing. Here it’s existence would have to be viewed as an undeniable success and surprisingly enough, having two versions on the record doesn’t seem like overkill or cause the album to feel lopsided or repetitive at all.

Bottom Line: Hell To Pay is light years better than Long Way Home—an album that even now Mick Brown admits to having been primarily a Dokken solo effort—it’s also an album that even Don’s toupee is rumored to have hated. Alone, that statement doesn’t mean that this is the record that will cause anyone to forget the vintage Dokken/Lynch era (you already know Shadowlife sucks, I’m not counting that) or even in certain respects the Dokken/Reb era. Hell To Pay is promising though, and if Don could just pull the band out of the midtempo rut that is pervasive on a few of the tunes, it might cause him to have to sing with more fluctuation and tone. Whether or not he can still hit the type of notes he used to isn’t that much of an argument because either way, he can do better than this. The band can still do better than this. Although this may not be the record everyone who considers themselves a fan has been praying for, it’s close. I grappled with whether or not to give this 2.75 stars meaning it’s not quite an endorsement or a 3 meaning that it is. I’m going to go ahead and go with the 3 primarily because this is just such an improvement over its predecessor that the fact these guys came back with anything even remotely indicative of the type of band they have been throughout the majority of their career is astounding.

Maybe, if the stars align just so, on the next record, the kid who did the cover art won’t be the only one in line for a pack of Skittles and a hug.

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