Wait, don't go anywhere ... this new album is actually good!
Homer Simpson: "Play 'Takin' Care of Business'!"
Randy Bachman: "We already did."
Homer Simpson: "Play it again!"
Whether it's at a football stadium, a state fair, a tacky club, or Rocklahoma, there's nothing more depressing than seeing a veteran hard rock band desperately try to plug its newest album, when 99 percent of the people in the audience are there to hear the old classics. Granted, there are some acts that have enough confidence in their new material to pull it off, such as Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Rush, but when it comes to the bands of the 1980s pop metal era especially, it's next to impossible to get folks to pay attention to the new stuff. The phrase, "Here's a song from out newest album" might as well be changed to, "Go ahead and get a beer or go to the bathroom while we dick around onstage for five minutes." Unless they're hearing the power ballads and anthems of their mid-'80s youth, folks simply don't care about what those bands are doing now.
Of course, it doesn't help things when so many bands from that era have turned to churning out nothing but third-rate post-grunge, following Nickelback's tired, lazy formula of turgid tempos and lazy, tuned-down riffs in an attempt to sound modern. In the case of Dokken, though, it turns out they're smart enough to do otherwise, and while their eleventh album isn't quite on par with past favorites like 1984's Tooth and Nail and 1986's Under Lock and Key, at the very least, it sounds convincingly like the band still believes it's the 1980s, stressing strong melodies, sharp uptempo riffs, and plenty of flashy guitar solos. Simply put, singer/songwriter Don Dokken is well aware of his band's strengths, and he wisely sticks to them on Lightning Strikes Again.
Many will be surprised to know that the band has put out six studio albums since their very messy split in 1989, with band members coming and going, but while releases like Dysfunctional and Erase the Slate vainly attempted to recapture the magic only to stumble doing so, the energetic Lightning Strikes Again succeeds, to the point where one can easily say it's their best, or at least most respectable, album since 1987's breakthrough Back For the Attack. Sure, ace shredder George Lynch is nowhere to be found, but guitarist Jon Levin turns out to be Lynch's best successor yet, his style on the new album mirroring Lynch's rather well, something we hear instantly on opener "Standing on the Outside", which, if not for the slight rasp in the 55 year-old Dokken's voice, could easily pass for something straight out of 1986.
And therein lays this album's great charm. Aside from the stumbling, Godsmack-ish "Disease", which slips ever-so-briefly into the alt-metal trap, the album is all about catchy hooks, scorching riffs, and little else. "Give Me a Reason" follows the Dokken formula to a tee, to the point where Levin swipes Lynch's licks from "Dream Warriors", but the vocal harmonies in the chorus, which have always been the band's secret weapon, are strong enough to have us not care one bit. "Heart of Stone" is the same kind of classy hard rock that Rainbow churned out with Joe Lynn Turner in the early-'80s, "Oasis" is the kind of brooding track that hearkens back to the band's tremendous 1988 single "Heaven Sent", and the rapid-fire "Point of No Return" will remind many oldsters of the classic Breaking the Chains track "Paris is Burning".
For an album like this, three ballads is seriously pushing overkill, but the one keeper is "How I Miss Your Smile", which smartly avoids power ballad bombast, instead going for an understated sweetness that few bands, in the '80s or now, would have the guts to attempt. It's that type of songwriting savvy that makes Lightning Strikes Again a surprisingly classy effort, a dignified return to form by a band that has always had the knack for superb songs yet is only now just starting to regain its footing. In fact, these are the kind of songs that just might convince the punters in the crowd, the ones obnoxiously screaming for "It's Not Love", to stick around when Dokken does break out the new stuff.