Dokken – Lightning Strikes Again (2008, Rhino)
- Standing On The Outside
- Give Me A Reason
- Heart To Stone
- How I Miss Your Smile
- Point Of No Return
- I Remember
- Judgement Day
- It Means
- Release Me
- This Fire
Don Dokken – Lead Vocals
Mick Brown – Drums & Backing Vocals
Jon Levin – Guitars
Barry Sparks – Bass
Produced by: Don Dokken & Tim David Kelly
Total Time = 51:18
I’ve been a Dokken fan since BREAKING THE CHAINS (1983) debuted and I have eagerly anticipated every Dokken album ever since. When LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN was announced back in the Fall of 2007, I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t enjoy the last two studio albums: LONG WAY HOME (2002) and HELL TO PAY (2004). As most bands do nowadays, a press release for LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN stated that the new album would be “a throwback to the classic Dokken sound”. When I read something like that, I get a bit skeptical, usually its a ruse to keep fan interest, but I had my hopes because I hadn’t really enjoyed a Dokken album since ’99’s ERASE THE SLATE. That album WAS a return to the classic Dokken sound.
The good news is that it seems like the merry-go-round of revolving band members has stopped. Former Warlock guitarist Jon Levin is back for his second album and he has solidified his position in the band with his excellent playing. Bassist Barry Sparks is back for album #3, his track record is long and successful including stints with Yngwie Malmsteen, UFO, and Ted Nugent. Add founding members ‘Wild’ Mick Brown and, of course, Don Dokken and the band seems to have solid footing in the crowded Heavy Metal world.
Opening song ‘Standing On The Outside’ starts the album off to a rocking start with an ’80s throwback riff that sounds like a piece from the Dokken classic ‘It’s Not Love’. I was instantly hooked by the ’80s sounding guitar and melodic hook to the chorus but I did notice that Don takes a low key approach to the vocal. He never really goes too high and has more of a raspy tone that keeps the song a little modern sounding. More classic sounding Dokken arrives with ‘Give Me A Reason’, another upbeat song with solid Levin guitar lines and solo. Jon Levin almost sounds a bit like former Dokken guitar hero George Lynch at times, that’s a good thing because it shows that the songs are based around good guitar playing. ‘Heart To Stone’ is the third uptempo guitar based song in a row and it’s probably no coincidence that it’s also the third Dokken/Levin collaboration as well, a writing team that has blossomed into a winner. ‘Heart To Stone’ has another melodic Hard Rock sound with another catchy chorus, Don’s vocal sounds like the clock turned back more than a few years and you can hear some really good rolling fills by the ‘Wild’ man behind the kit.
‘Disease’ is a moody modern sounding song heavy on the rhythm section and distorted guitar (until the solo). There’s some effects put on Don’s vocal during the song and it gives an unusual result. Don Dokken has always been known for his melodic clean vocal lines so the vocal enhancements seem a little out of place. Mick Brown co-wrote the song with Don so that might be the reason for the heavy drum/bass sound. Five songs in and we finally get a ballad with ‘How I Miss Your Smile’. I’m a little surprised that it didn’t show up sooner in the running order but Dokken has put it’s heavier foot forward so far. Don has always been able to write a solid melodic ballad (‘Alone Again’, ‘Slippin’ Away’) and this is one of the better ones. A nice acoustic guitar intro, clean vocals, and a subdued electric guitar…..one of my favorites of the album. The first song released to Dokken’s MySpace page for a preview was ‘Oasis’, a mid-tempo subdued song that reminds me of the SHADOWLIFE-era of the band, maybe even the LONG WAY HOME record. The guitar keeps it a little heavy and Levin has a nice solo but I like the acoustic guitar underneath everything, it gives it a little more depth.
Things pick up again with ‘Point Of No Return’ giving off that old school “rockin’ with Dokken” feel but ballad #2 ‘I Remember’ slows everything down again. ‘I Remember’ is pretty good although a little dated sounding like the Scorpions at times, especially on the guitar. Even though it’s similar to things I’ve heard before, I like it. ‘Judgement Day’ picks up where ‘Point Of No Return’ left off but I’m left a little cold by this track, the vocals seem strained and even though it’s a faster song, I feel like I’ve heard it all before. ‘It Means’ is more mid-tempo modern guitar rock but with a catchy chorus, I think the song would benefit from bigger sounding backing vocals. ‘Release Me’ is another mid-tempo song that sounds a bit like ‘Oasis’ in the guitar tone and vocal but I do like that thumping bassline Sparks lays down. If the monotone stylings of the last few songs had you bored then the opening riff of ‘This Fire’ gets things back into gear. Definitely an faster rocker but the vocal gives it a subdued, almost moody, feel but the chorus makes things better when the background vocals kick in. Levin shows off his fast fingers come solo time and proves he was a good pick to handle the guitar slot for years to come. There’s a few spoken word lines at the end of the song by Don about thin crust pizza, not sure what this has to do with the music but I figure it’s got to be some inside joke with the band.
This is the best Dokken album in almost 10 years, very close to the excellent ERASE THE SLATE (1999). The centerpiece is Jon Levin, he is a great guitar player and can imitate some of George Lynch’s guitar parts AND bring his own style to the table. There are some really cool riffs and solos all over this album but one of the unsung qualities is the underlying acoustic guitar Levin plays on some of the songs. The rhythm section is tight, Sparks and Brown keep everything moving along nicely with serious precision. If there is any complaints it’s with the vocals because it seems like Don Dokken stays in that mid-range a little too much rather than straight out going for it with a higher delivery. Granted, Don’s a little older and his voice has changed a bit since the early days when he was in his 20s, I think maybe he could’ve benefited from bigger background vocals. That’s where a guy like former bassist Jeff Pilson came in for years but he’s out and the more than capable Barry Sparks is in. What Don does do vocally is still pretty good and melodic just not in the higher register. Overall, I think the album is very good. If I had to slot it in the post-George Lynch era (from 1998-present), I would put this right behind ERASE THE SLATE and just ahead of HELL TO PAY.
I liked a lot of the faster rockers like ‘Standing On The Outside’, ‘This Fire’, ‘Point Of No Return’, and ‘Give Me A Reason’. A lot of these uptempo numbers have that old school Dokken sound and it’s definitely a highpoint. The two ballads are very good as well. I like ‘How I Miss Your Smile’ a little more than ‘I Remember’ because it seems a little more original and Dokken like whereas ‘I Remember’ sounds like a Scorpions ballad from any album after 1990’s CRAZY WORLD. I like it though, probably the best Scorpions ballad that they never made!
Notes: My version of the album is the U.S. release that came out a couple of weeks after the European and Japanese versions. The European version has a bonus track called ‘Sunset Superstar’ and the Japanese version has a bonus track called ‘Leave Me Alone’. LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN is also the highest charting debut (#133) for a Dokken record on the Billboard Top 200 in over 13 years and it charted higher than BREAKING THE CHAINS did (#138) in 1983. Shows that there’s still an audience out there and it’s not just me buying these types of records.