"You need love so now I'm back!!!"
So begins awesome intro to the song "Back For The Attack", a killer rocker that inexplicably does not appear on Dokken's 1987 album Back For The Attack. Instead it was relegated to a B Side on the cassingle to their soundtrack song "Dream Warriors". I know this because I owned that cassingle, that's how big a Dokken fan I was in the hair spray raising 80's. George Lynch was the shit on the guitar and Don Dokken had one of those "ultimate" metal voices. Dokken (the band and the man) was coming off the Under Lock And Key album, one of my favorite discs of all time. They were favorites of mine throughout high school and now that I was in college they were poised to do something even bigger. Unfortunately, despite the disc selling well it didn't do what they were poised to do so Back For The Attack ended up being the closing chapter to the peak period of their career.
Back For The Attack was released just as the CD format started to take off and so the sticker made a big deal out of there being 62 minutes on this album. Oh wow really, 62 minutes? Remember when they used to make albums 46 or 62 minutes long to keep you from recording the full album on a tape? That's all that was. Still, at an hour plus change Back For The Attack was the longest set the band had recorded up to that point (I stopped after the live album Beast From The East so I have no idea how long the albums that came after were). Here we go, Dokken's magnum opus, Back For The Attack!!
1. Kiss Of Death
The album gets off to a strong start with this fast paced rocker anchored by a racing George Lynch guitar riff. Backed by the steady beat of drummer Mick Brown and bassist Jeff Pilson, vocalist Don Dokken wails like a banshee about that "Kiss Of Death". In interviews, Dokken alluded to the song being about AIDS as the epidemic of that deadly disease was getting national attention by '86-'87. More specifically, the song is about fear of getting AIDS from a groupie. Making this one of the most magnificently shallow songs in mainstream metal history.
I won't go so far to say they followed a formula, but there were certain grooves Dokken liked. This is the "Just Got Lucky" / "It's Not Love" groove. A midtempo beat, gang shouted chorus and dramatic "tortured soul" vocals (a Don Dokken specialty!) leading up to a spine tingling guitar solo from Lynch. Killer stuff.
3. Night By Night
A decent filler track, I tended to block this song out back in the day. Very repetitive song but of course the performance of the band itself is a cut above.
4. Standing In The Shadows
When walking on campus between classes listening to this on a walkman (for you young folks, a walkman is like an Ipod but bigger and required what we used to call a cassette tape to play music. I've included a picture in case this ancient technology is too confusing) the sketchy guitar part stood out. Very cool song to listen to while watching people move all around you between classes, like we're all...standing in the shadows!
5. Heaven Sent
Track five, it's power ballad time! Despite their best efforts, Dokken was never able to cross over to a pop audience while scores of arguably lesser talented pop metal bands did so with ease. A big factor in this in my opinion (or in internet speak IMHO aka I'm a Ho...er, In My Honest Opinion) was that Dokken was too dark sounding to appeal to pop fans. Dokken is very metal in that sense, singing weighty songs in a dark tone with guitars firing all around. So "Heaven Sent" and it's predecessors like "Jaded Heart" and "Alone Again" made for killer ballads that only Rock fans knew about. Too bad, with some pop success maybe they would have kept going.
6. Mr Scary
George Lynch is a freakin artist with his six string sting, here he gets a full instrumental to showcase his stuff. An award winning guitarist (at least I seem to remember him winning Guitar Player awards in magazines and what not), "Mr Scary" is indeed frightening with its burgeoning riff and screaming guitar soloing. That steady rhythm section gets more room to move particularly Mick Brown's percussion. A sort of precursor of things to come, shredmeister guitar player Lynch would form his own band Lynch Mob a few years later.
7. So Many Tears
After all that thunderous metal, the band shows its more melodic side on "So Many Tears". Not quite as strong as the two songs that precede it yet still satisfying. Sort of like "In My Dreams" with the emphasis on the ghostly group chorus vocals. To underscore the band's invisibility to the pop audience, years ago at work the video for "In My Dreams" came on which I watched closely until my co-worker insisted on knowing what I was watching. This person knew pop music pretty well, when I said "It's Dokken" she said "Who the hell is that?" For an interesting twist, while looking for song links a cover from some band in Japan popped up performed in what looks like a backyard. Metal lives! In Japan! With heavily accented English!
8. Burning Like A Flame
Like I said, Dokken tried every trick in the book to cross over. The power ballad, the movie soundtrack tie-in, even this: the happy rock song. Maybe the only happy sounding Dokken tune in their canon. And like a man that never smiles, "Burning Like A Flame" is a little awkward sounding. Never been my favorite track because of that, it's all well played but feels odd. And it was all for naught, "Burning Like A Flame" was the lead single and failed to dent the pop charts.
9. Lost Behind The Wall
Taking off with the sound of a jet leading into a heavy bass line from Pilson, this is classic 80s metal. Just like Accept's "Balls To The Wall" this is about struttin down the street ready to take on THE MAN. Even though the lyrics are about being trapped behind THE WALL, the spirit of the track is YOU'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT!!!
As much as I love 80s Dokken, at this point in the album I usually got a little tired. 62 minutes of Dokken I guess is just too much for me. Back in the day I often fast forwarded to the last song after "Lost Behind The Wall". Not much to say on this song so I'll take this space to mention how interesting it is that Don Dokken and George Lynch often sound tight on recordings but in real life have a reputation for carrying a blood feud that rivals the Hatfields and McCoys. In rock mags of the time, Dokken was better known for their infighting than actual music.
11. Cry Of The Gypsy
Between bonus tracks if you bought the CD or cassette over the record and the expansion of album run times with the new technology, the art of quality control went out the window. If Back For The Attack didn't have tracks 10 thru 12 on it the album would be stronger as a whole. Then again, if it wasn't on the album I'd probably have to track these songs down as B sides or something because I love me some 80s Dokken. As it is, we have a mediocre cut highlighted with Lynch's flashy guitar fills.
12. Sleepless Nights
Ooh yeah! Well, that's what Don Dokken shouts at the start of this track. "Sleepless Nights" is the classic hair band album track move aka the blues strutter. The groove is a little more bluesy on the gui-tar as it struts behind the "I'm a party God" vocals. Not bad, a bit more memorable than the songs preceding it.
13. Dream Warriors
The fact that this song is as good as it is is a testiment to Dokken's talent. I mean think about it, if you were commissioned to write a song for a Freddy Kruger movie titled A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors what would you do? Most people would come up with a big hanging piece of crap, like when J. Geils Band came up with a theme song for Fright Night that had a campy ghost sound at the end of the chorus ("Fright Night / Ooh"). Dokken's song has more drama and power than the movie it's from, enough to make me buy the hokey lyrics tied to the flick ("We're the Dream Warriors / Don't Wanna Dream No More / 'Cause Maybe Tonight You'll Be Gone!"). That reminds me, whatever happened to that girl Heather Lagenkamp (probably mangled her name there)? Lost track of her after the sitcom Just The Ten Of Us (and I'm doin' it the best I can / Doin' it for nobody but meeee...) And are they still going to remake A Nightmare On Elm Street with new actors? Wasn't the ten or twelve original ones they made enough already? Watching this video, I totally forgot Patricia Arquette was in the movie. Medium alert!
After Back For The Attack the group wouldn't release a new studio disc until the mid 90s. From what I've read online, they never recaptured their magic although reviewers have said their most recent effort Lightning Strikes Again gets close. For me, Dokken ended with the 80s so I haven't checked on them since. But in the context of 80s rock, they were totally rad. Keep on rockin' Dokken!