At the end of 2020, George Lynch and Jeff Pilson released ‘Heavy Hitters’, a well meaning but not especially good covers album, on which the 80s legends took all manner of material and made it heavier. Not everything will withstand being made into a massive rock tune, and hearing the two ex-Dokken men cranking their way through Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Nowhere To Run’ with distorted vocals was especially grim. Likewise, the world didn’t need Duran Duran’s perfect pop tune ‘Ordinary World’ reworked in a sub grunge mould, or the Joan Osborne hit ‘One of Us’ presented as an unimaginative hard rock trudge. However, the musicians clearly had fun mauling other peoples’ material, and three years later, decided to foist a second volume of covers upon everyone. Thankfully, ‘Heavy Hitters II’ is a massive improvement on its predecessor.
First up, a drastic reworking of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ works better than eighty percent of the tracks on the first covers album. Adding heaviness has the drawback of making it feel a little too slow, but looking past that, there’s merit in the Lynch/Pilson team and the weighty groove they wield throughout. Lynch’s chosen tone – a heavy blues vibe crossed with a post grunge sludginess – gives the air of one of Stevie Salas’s noisier workouts, but it’s the way Pilson’s chugging bass cuts through almost everything that gives this recording its real charm. Armed with a couple of busy solos, George seems keen to make the once classic pop tune his own and a late arrival of some brassy backing vocals brings a very welcome reminder of the original cut’s big sound. Is it better than Peter Gabriel’s world famous hit? Of course not, but in some ways, the musicians should be applauded for opening this collection with something so brave. Or so it seems, before they up the surprise factor and add a wall of guitars to the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classic ‘Carry On’. Instead of opening with the famously busy acoustic riff, Lynch wades in with a swaggering funk metal riff, and intersperses that with huge bluesy leads played in a melodic metal tone. By the time he hits his first guitar solo, there’s nothing in the music that sounds remotely like ‘Carry On’. Instead, it all sounds more like a strange overspill from Living Colour’s heavy ‘Stain’ LP. It actually shifts into something a little more palatable at the mid point when the tempo slows and Lynch throws out a massive blues rock riff, but this, again, bares little resemblance to the Stills arrangement from 1970. Ensuring the song remains unmistakable, however, the vocals are kept within their original melody and meter, and the harmonies – although very much a product of the studio environment – are great. Whether it actually works or not is a different matter. The jury is definitely out and it’s likely to be out for some time.
Imagine Dragons’ ‘Radioactive’ is transformed from beat-heavy indie pop fare into a full scale rocker, where the rhythm guitar dominates with a semi funky, chopping riff throughout, and a once indistinct vocal is replaced by a curly rock vocal that actually works rather nicely. Although some of Dokken’s older fans would’ve quite liked the lads to cover the Gene Simmons disco infused track of the same name, this is actually one of this album’s highlights, showing how well these musicians feed off of each other and never sound stale, despite their many years in the business. Given how a few of this album’s earlier tracks show more spark than most of ‘Heavy Hitters’ volume one, it’s disappointing to hear everyone literally phoning in Billy Squier’s ‘The Stroke’, and merely taking its famous riff and drums and amping them up about two hundred percent. On the plus side, it’s well produced; the shouty backing vocals sound suitably huge, and some of Lynch’s lead guitar interjections show how much fire the veteran guitarist still has…but it’s actually rather boring.
Boring is preferable to bad, of course, and ‘Heavy Hitters II’ is home to a couple of bad choices that should have been given more thought or, better yet, been left alone. Nobody needed to hear the perfect groove of the INXS classic ‘New Sensation’ reduced to a heavy-ish, poor man’s Stevie Salas funk chug. Stripped of the original’s brightness, it just sounds like a weird funk metal throwback, and with Bernard Fowler wailing his way through the vocal melody like a mutated Corey Glover fighting with a glam metal wannabe, it’s actually a little too much like hard work, and Sam & Dave’s ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ is even worse. Much like the version of ‘Nowhere To Run’ from the original ‘Heavy Hitters’, this is cast iron proof that once you add bluesy and rock influenced guitars to a soul classic, it’ll lose all of its character. Sure, Lynch’s tone is great, but it has no place here, and some really amped up drums (which may or may not be played by Brian Tichy – some actual sleeve credits would’ve been useful) do their best to crush everything in their path once a funk groove has been established. Ending up sounding like Stevie Salas in a less inspired mood, it’s a cover that most people could probably live without. The same goes for ‘Smokestack Lightning’ which, perversely, could’ve sustained a similar funk metal approach…so, instead, the ex-Dokken lads and their assembled maties decide to slow it to a lumpen dirge. Part blues, part grunge, part hard rock, there are glimmers of Dokken circa ‘Shadowlife’ peaking through the swamp, but a lack of tempo and too much wailing makes for a fairly painful four and a half minutes. Granted, George can be relied upon for a couple of well played lead flourishes, but you can hear him play just as well on any number of other recordings.
Elsewhere, a solid hard rock stomp through Tears For Fears’ ‘Shout’ sounds pedestrian compared to Disturbed’s mechanical take on the classic track. It clearly follows the same model, but Lynch’s muddy tones really don’t sell the groove, whilst an average run through of the Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ allows for a chunky guitar riff, but very little else of interest. It certainly isn’t terrible, but considering how much effort has gone into a few of these covers, fans should have been given a little more. Sly Stone’s ‘Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ fares much better when returning to the funk rock groove established on ‘New Sensation’, but sounds far more natural. That’s to be expected given the source material, and its mix of loud hard rock drumming and dirty funk chords works brilliantly. It relies upon a force rather than the natural flair of the 70s original, but it’s one of those recordings where you can tell the assembled band had fun, and with Pilson’s hefty bass peaking through something that conveys sounds of an early 90s funk metal jam, this quickly becomes one of this album’s stand out tracks.
As before, some of these recordings rely a little too much on heavy arrangements that don’t always suit the material in hand. This album is, however, better than the first ‘Heavy Hitters’ due to a couple of superior track choices, and at the very least, it demonstrates how George and Jeff have varied tastes beyond their hard rock day jobs. For those willing to approach this with an open mind, there’s intermittent fun to be had. Much like the first ‘Heavy Hitters’ release, though, this is one of those collections that is mostly aimed a certain demographic of the Dokken, Lynch and Pilson fanbase. Those fans will enjoy this more than most, but the very nature of “heavying up some pop, soul and classic rock tunes” means that even their enjoyment might not be a long term thing. Overall, this has moments of unexpected quality, but to call it in any way essential would be a massive stretch of goodwill.