DOKKEN – Broken Bones

Dokken are not exactly well known for their classic album covers, but with regard to 2012’s ‘Broken Bones’ their sleeve art hits an all time low.  A retro skull and crossbones? The album may reference the word bones but, surely, they could have chosen something better?  As indie-rock band Ash once put it, pirates are so 2004.

Dokken can often be relied upon for some fantastic hard rock tunes, though [1997’s mostly awful ‘Shadowlife’ being the notable exception to the rule] and, fortunately, most of ‘Broken Bones’ delivers in spades.  In fact, the two potentially weakest cuts are those which bookend each of the record, where the band most obviously revisit the kind of full-on melodic metal riffs which filled their earliest discs.  ‘Empire’ chugs ahead at full throttle, at first sounding as if it favours riffs and general bombast over anything approaching memorable song writing.  After spending a while with the album, the chorus elements become more obvious, but even then, any chorus is more of a pre-chorus variety than killer hook.  With a moment of majestic twin lead guitar and a particularly ferocious solo, the fans who enjoy this side of Dokken’s work will find some enjoyment, while those more into Dokken’s mid-paced tunes are best advised to move along.  ‘Tonight’ fares better thanks to a more memorable chorus and enjoyable eastern sounding riff during the intro, but again, ‘Broken Bones’ offers far better material elsewhere.

With regard to the album’s other nine tracks, it is honestly very hard to find fault – the remainder of the material borders on being first rate Dokken fare.  The title cut takes on a darker tone, as ex-Doro/Warlock guitarist Jon Levin plays a simple but effective riff over which Don Dokken’s lead voice cries out softly at first, before gradually being joined by other equally melodic voices.  By the chorus, the band members can be heard singing in great harmony.  The hook itself is somewhat of a slow burner, but the melody is undeniably strong.  ‘Waterfall’ is short and punchy with a groove-laden riff carrying most of the song’s weight.  The slight eastern motif occasionally appearing is reminiscent of the best parts of ‘Dysfunctional’ (the band’s superb 1994 comeback disc).  With a strong riff, relatively powerful vocal and a general “no padding” approach, this may have already been good enough to stand out as one of the better tunes on ‘Broken Bones’.  There’s a little more up the band’s sleeve, however, since Levin’s featured guitar solo ups the ante.  Here, the rest of Dokken have no choice but to adopt a different tempo (and tune) to accommodate his fretboard antics!

Eastern influenced riffs are revisited and approached in a hugely unsubtle – but most welcome – way throughout ‘Victim Of The Crime’, a tune which has an epic quality.  Levin offers up various sweeping lead guitar parts, again with a little eastern flair.  It would have been easy for Dokken to extend this track to allow for extra flashy guitar solos, but have instead chosen to keep things vocal led.  Whether Don’s slightly filtered voice performs alone or with a small group of harmonies, his performance is impeccable – one of his best here – and while the general vibe is more Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’ than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, Dokken proves that such eastern sounding grooves never sound tired…no matter how many times they’re dished out.

On the wholly melodic ‘Today’, Don Dokken’s vocal has a natural tone – the kind which befits a man whom (by this point) has been in the business for three decades – but even so, he still sounds at his absolute best when joined by a few trademark melodic rock harmonies.  While the solid vocal approach and even more solid chorus would have been enough to make this track stand up, Levin is the one whom – once again – brings the most to the table.  With a mix of clean tone and slightly dirtier playing, his riffs are fine enough, but a terrific lead guitar break attacks with a marvellous intensity while always remaining on the good side of melodic.

‘For The Last Time’ has a big drum sound, which sounds even bigger when pitched against semi-acoustic guitar work.   The guitars lay down a fine melody as a blanket of soft keys add to the overall atmosphere.  …And then the song opens properly with its chorus, the electric riffs creating a fine example of chunky melodic rock.  For the verses, things return to the more atmospheric sounds of the intro, over which Don sounds very confident.  This is an interesting tune in the sense that it sounds as if Dokken welded together two half finished ideas.  Both great individually, but they sound good together, too – although those softer moments are certainly preferable.  If you can make it past the initial jarring aspects of this song, it is a tremendous addition to the Dokken catalogue.

There will always be a few naysayers who feel that for best results both Don Dokken and George Lynch should be present, but Jon Levin does a first rate job on most of these tracks.  The combination of meaty (often) mid-paced riffs, great lead work and a few catchy choruses makes ‘Broken Bones’  Dokken’s finest hour since ‘Dysfunctional’.

September 2012