I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Real Ale or French Cinema, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated “Foodie” and their knowledge of Risotto. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or Real Ale or Rissoto. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
This is the sixty ninth-entry in the series. This time around I’ll be listening to the second full-length studio album by the LA Hair Metal band Dokken, entitled Tooth & Nail. Supposedly its one of the heaviest and best Hair Metal albums of all time. Its also supposedly a guitar classic, full of incredible solos and leads. Sounds good to me.
So; at this point in the article, I like to talk about how I feel about the genre from which this installment’s album comes. If you read these articles regularly, you probably already know my history with Hair Metal.
Basically, I used to have a huge prejudice against it, and used to instantly dislike almost anything associated with it, and I have had to slowly teach myself to tolerate it and later enjoy some of it. I still have a problem with many people involved with it’s personalities, decision-making and viewpoints, but there are definitely songs within the genre I enjoy. Whole albums even.
It definitely helps that no-matter how cheesy and unpalatable some of the bands were, they almost always had excellent lead guitarists, and I am an absolute sucker for a good guitar solo. It helped even more when I found out that the ballads and pop-with-guitars songs that I’d initially heard were only one part of the genre and there was a whole other side of it, more in the vein of Judas Priest. I love Judas Priest incidentally, so that sort of sound is a big plus for me.
I guess it also helped that I stopped being such as miserable prick, and allowed myself to enjoy things that were fun. Sure, I do genuinely dislike a lot of this sort of music, but at the same time, when I was 11 or 12 years old I wasn’t really giving it a fair chance. Actually paying some attention to it allowed me to see the positives.
And hey, despite what Garry Holt may have felt in the ‘80s, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy both Exodus and Twisted Sister, right? Creating artificial barriers and limiting yourself just means you miss out on some good music.
So. That’s the genre out of the way. What about the band?
Well, to be honest, I don’t really know much about Dokken, I think I heard their name come up in Bowling For Soup’s ‘1985’ and Brian Posien’s ‘More Metal Than You’ the two or three times I ever heard those tracks. I also have a really, really vauge memory of seeing a Dokken video when I first started listening to music, but its so cloudy I can recall anything about it.
Other than that, I remember Gill from The Metal Hammer Podcast, going on an amusing rant about how people enjoy Hair Metal but don’t like to admit it, and stating that people in Metal nightclubs know all the words to Dokken’s ‘Dream Warriors.’
I don’t know if that’s true. The only Hair Metal song’s I’ve ever heard in such a setting were Warrant’s ‘Cherry Pie’ and Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn.’ To be honest, I’m not often in such an establishment, so it could well be true, I’ve just never seen it.
I also like to watch documentaries about Metal a lot. (Metal Evolution, Heavy Metal Louder Than Life, When Metal Ruled The World, Heavy The Story Of Metal, etc.) George Lynch from Dokken is almost always in them (much like Scott Ian from Anthrax). He seems like a lot more of a reasonable and down to earth guy than a lot of the other Glam musicians who be in these documentaries.
So what else do I know about Dokken? Not much. I heard ‘Bullets To Spare’ once when curiously researching Glam Metal bands, one bored afternoon, a few years ago. I enjoyed it. Other than that, I am almost completely unaware of them.
That’s obviously about to change.
The album opens up with the clean arpeggio, fade-in, intro to ‘Without Warning.’ It’s the sort of thing that could be at the start of a Metallica album. When the lead guitar comes in over the top, it oddly reminds me of Chimaira’s ‘Down Again’ intro but only vaugley.
The first full song, the single ‘Just Got Lucky’ comes in next. Its, um… not what I was expecting. It’s a sort of sunny, slightly chilled, almost AOR sounding track. It sort of bobs along calmly, with no particular power or aim, until the chorus comes in and the layered vocals add a bit to it. The verse reminds me of 1980s game shows or adverts from the ‘90s for holiday camps for some reason. There’s a lead bit that reminds me of Boston and Queen somewhat. It reminds me of Grand Theft Auto Vice City, but not the rock station, the pop stations. I remember just before typing this seeing that a Dokken song was on the soundtrack to Vice City Stories, I wonder if that’s why, or if its just a production issue.
The next track, ‘Heartless Heart’ comes in. It’s a sort of semi-ballad. One of those tracks with a clean intro, a very melodic chorus and soft verses, that aren’t really a ballad, but aren’t heavy either. Quiet Riot have a lot of them. Its also very calm and restrained. The whole record so far seems to be holding a bit back. Its not got that W.A.S.P style Metallic energy, and there’s no Quiet Riot style bombastic confidence. If I were to describe it, the best I could come up with is ‘polite.’
The thing is, its also quite good. Really pleasant and easy to listen to. I think they might have that Devildriver/Black Label Society quality of making you listen to them numerous, numerous times without particularly loving them. Easy-listening. Not the genre, but something you can actually listen to, easily.
Oh what’s this? ‘When Heaven Comes Down’ comes on next. Its got a bit of umph. Its actually got some energy in the performance, its quite reminiscent of Quiet Riot after a fashion, in terms of having solid Hard Rock drums, a slightly Metallic guitar approach played slower and with the heaviness taken down a notch to make it palatable. When the guitar solo comes in, I finally get what I want. Impressive shredding with a bit of melody to stop it being boring. Afterwards too, the addition of backing vocals and a slightly harder-hitting drum performance gives the song a breath of life.
‘Heartless Heart’ comes in again. Meaning only one thing. I’ve made that classic Kingcrimsonblog error of not remembering to turn off the shuffle function before playing the record. ‘Heartless Heart’ isn’t a semi-ballad at all. It’s the fastest paced, most metallic track so far. It actually reminds me a little of Bon Jovi. I know that when I say ‘Bon Jovi’ and ‘most metallic’ together in one sentence some people may raise an eyebrow, but it serves to illustrate how polite the previous tracks were I guess.
Y’know what else, this song is a big heap of fun. Very catchy. I guess that’s the Jovi similarity there. Its lightweight in the same way that Motely Crue’s Too Fast For Love is, but somehow a lot more solid and satisfying (although I have to admit I’ve really come to enjoy the track ‘Live Wire.’)
Next up (in my incorrect shuffled order version) comes ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ which is similarly fun and Jovi-esque, with even more of driving energy and even a chugging Priest-y part in its pre-chorus. There’s a fun drum fill that ends with stomping along with strikes of the china cymbal, in what has to be the most energetic moment of the record thus far. I really like this song. This isn’t what I wanted or expected, but it is how good I expected and wanted it to be. It even ends with the Priest-y riff and a nice high pitched Halford-style squeal.
Next up comes ‘Bullets To Spare’ which has a bit more of that sleazy LA sound than I remember. The melodic pre-chorus is the typical Glam Metal sound, the main verse has a very Quiet Riot sound to it, the chorus itself reminds me of a faster version of Judas Priest’s ‘The Killing Machine’ with that sort of vaguely raunchy riff sound that Glam Bands like to use. The solo makes me happy. After that, you’ve got used to the previous parts and are happy to hear them again, especially since they’ve now got more energy and extra fills.
‘Turn On The Action’ burst in next, all speed and energy. It reminds me a lot of Van Halen in one way. I can see how someone might want to take a Van Halen track like ‘Atomic Punk’ or ‘On Fire’ or ‘Loss Of Control’ and turn it into a fast, driving, Glam Metal song. I really enjoy it. Its bouncy and fun, and a lot more energetic than the first few tracks. Its got a bigger, louder and more exciting guitar solo than any of the tracks so far, and so that pretty much sells it for me.
That’s followed by ‘Into The Fire’ which again reminds me a bit of Boston, its quite interesting. This is the perfect sort of ‘80s sound. The absolute crossover point between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Its also structurally quite interesting and musically very accomplished. There are parts that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dream Theater album. The vocals are more varied than anything before. Its really rather good. Plus the bit with the guitar solo is just straight up brilliant. The bit after it reminds me of Boston’s ‘Piece Of Mind’ a little. I really like this one.
‘Tooth And Nail’ bursts in afterward and is a fast paced Trad Metal anthem in the vein of a ‘Delivering The Goods,’ ‘Exciter’ or ‘Rapid Fire.’ This is what I was expecting. Maybe I had heard this and not ‘Bullets To Spare.’ This is absolutely awesome. Holy crap, what a flashy guitar solo too. Incredibly energetic and rather powerful. Such a stark contrast to ‘Just Got Lucky.’ Damn, that was satisfying.
Hmmm. That seems to be the album over. Seems a bit short. I guess that first ballad I confused with another track must be ‘Alone Again.’ Its interesting that it played the least exciting tracks first and then ramped up the quality and power. It played them exactly from least to most exciting. Huh. Neat.
Y’know what? That’s a bit brief for one of these articles, isn’t it?
I guess I’ll throw in a bonus for you. How about Dokken’s fourth full-length studio album Back For The Attack?
It starts off with the rather more powerful and solid British Steel influenced ‘Kiss Of Death.’ There’s a lot more emphasis on guitar. The vocals have improved too, and they were already good, but now there’s more presence.
This is a bit closer to W.A.S.P than Bon Jovi or Van Halen. This is really solid, it’s the sort of song you’d expect to hear in a videogame with a heavy soundtrack. Its got that confidence. It reminds me a bit of a mixture between Queenryche’s ‘Queen Of The Reich’ with Dio’s ‘We Rock.’
‘Prisoner’ comes in next. It’s also rather solid and ballsy, but with with a bit more melody. It reminds me of ‘80s Judas Priest’s more melodic moments (‘Take These Chains’) crossed with Quiet Riot’s heavier moments (‘We Were Born To Rock’). This is slick, solid and really satisfying. There’s actually something of Maiden’s ‘Fates Warning’ to it. Its got an even more Slippery When Wet production. The lead guitar work is fantastic. And the chorus is damn catchy.
‘Night By Night’ follows up. It reminds me of Priest’s ‘Private Property’ in its intro. When the chorus comes in, it gets a bit more into Skid Row territory but not massively. I really like Don Dokken’s voice. The backing vocals oddly remind me of Scott Ian. It would be mildly amusing if George Lynch’s voice sounded like Scott Ian’s after me comparing them earlier. Yet another great guitar solo.
All of these songs are closer to four and a half minutes or five minutes than on the previous album, which was a bit more succinct. This also has more songs. Oh well, I thought the last one was a bit short, so I guess they did too and decided to make a longer record.
‘Standing In The Shadows’ opens up with a fun intro that really, really reminds me of Turbo era Priest. This vocals remind me a bit of the verse from ‘Livin On A Prayer’ actually. It also vaguely reminds me of Queensryche’s Rage For Order album in a distant way (and not just because of the word ‘Shadows’).
The whole way through these two albums, there’s this hint of a voice that Don Dokken occasionally throws out that I really recognize, but I can figure out from where. I don’t know if its Joey Belladonna or Michael Kiske or even Paul Stanely, but each time I hear it I want to comment on it until I remember I don’t know who it is I’m being reminded of.
Anyway. Every song thus far has been really enjoyable, with excellent and interesting lead guitar, a catchy chorus and maybe one-minute-too-long.
‘Heaven Sent’ comes in next. It’s a semi-ballad, but if you turned down the little part in the background it would sound more like an Iced Earth semi-ballad than a Motely Crue one. Again, a lot of variety in the vocals. Don is quite diverse and can shift through a lot of different voices. There’s a really fun bit two minutes and twenty seconds in where they go into a sort of rushed version of the ‘Back In Black’ riff with a sort of staccato feel. Then before you can get too comfortable with this new rhythmic part, a lovely big guitar solo kicks in. For a cheesy ‘80s power ballad, this is surprisingly tasteful, and good.
‘Mr. Scary’ comes in next. Its really rather heavy compared to the rest of the album. It’s a bit closer to Annihilator than Quiet Riot. There’s some really good drums here, a lot more variety, power and energy. It seems to be instrumental. Its pretty damn enjoyable. Its kind of what I expected Cacophony to sound like when I bought their album. Humour me, and give this song a listen if you haven’t heard of Dokken. …go on. Do it. …Not what you expected, was it?
‘So Many Tears’ comes in next, but it in contrast, kind of is what you’d expect. I mean, its not that sort of stripper music side of Glam, but it is stuff you could reasonably expect to hear in an 80s action movie. Chuck this in somewhere in the middle of Top Gun or Die Hard and I don’t think too many people would violently be sick at the sonic-anachronism.
Oh yeah, and its good too. Everything so far has been good. This seems to be a very good album. Apparently it was their best selling album, which normally you would expect to be the sell-out one. I’m really digging it so far. I think Paul Baloff and his ilk have done us a disservice by discouraging fans to try out this kind of music too. Sure, I couldn’t put ‘So Many Tears’ side by side with ‘Bonded By Blood’ in a playlist called ‘Heavy Songs’ but they would both sit happily beside each other in one marked ‘Good Songs.’
‘Burning Like A Flame’ was another single. It really reminds me of American High Schools for some reason. Was this in the soundtrack to something? It sounds like bits in shows like Family Guy when they do a little parody of 80s montages. It also reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite for not clear reason that I can discern.
I’m kind of running out of things to say at this point. Every track basically falls under the following categories: “It was better than I’d expect” “Its less cheesy than I’d expect” “Its good” “That guitar solo is great” “That chorus is catchy” “The little flashy guitar part that’s not a solo is also great” “I wish I wasn’t snobby about Glam before now” and finally “This reminds me of something from the movies or videogames that it has no legitimate connection to, and also some other 80s bands.”
Each song has one neat bit that sets it apart, like a section with good fills, or a slow menacing intro that reminds me of bikers, or a brief slightly country tinged little guitar part that swizzes through almost under the radar. Its well produced, but not overproduced.
There’s a lot of great brief little moments, like the clean bit before the solo in ‘Stop Fighting Love’ but to be honest, its just going to get boring if I point them all out, because there’s so many of them.
[Side Note: I don’t recognize and could not sing all the lyrics to ‘Dream Warriors’ as previously suggested – (Despite once having seen the Freddy movie of the same name, which it served as a soundtrack to) – although to be fair, now that I have this record, that may change]
Overall; I’m glad this album was a success. I have this vague prejudice against Hair bands that they were all a bunch of chancers who got famous on publicity and not quality, and sometimes I forget that genuinely talented musicians got famous too. Just because Vince Neil isn’t a great singer, doesn’t mean Don Dokken can’t be great. On that note, George Lynch is a really noteworthy guitar player. I guess you could probably figure that out from how much I’ve banged on about the guitar so far, but I’d just like to state it finally and unequivocally.
I’d recommend trying out this album y’know. If you, like me, have a prejudice against Glam/Hair Metal, let it slide for a minute and give this a shot. Half the time its more like listening to Dio than you might imagine. The only track that really challenges my tastes at all is ‘Sleepless Nights.’ That’s a very small portion of the album, don’t you think?