DON DOKKEN – Up From the Ashes (1990 Geffen)
“The best revenge is to live well.” — Don Dokken’s liner notes. Passive aggressive much?
Dokken imploded in 1989 not with a bang but a whimper. Rather than remembering the live album they finished with (Beast From the East), people recall the animosity and bitter attacks in the rock press. George Lynch and Mick Brown began Lynch Mob, while Jeff Pilson formed War & Peace. Don Dokken meanwhile was cooking up a hot new band. The only issue was the name. The ex-members, who owned a stake in the Dokken name, refused to let Don use it. They also shot down the names “Dokken II” and “DKN”. (Reportedly Dokken was told if he wanted to just use the vowels “OE” for his new band, that would be fine with the others!) Don was understandably upset that he couldn’t use his own last name for his name, so he opted to bill himself as Don Dokken the solo artist.
His solo band was a killer. Fresh out of Europe with a smash hit album under his belt, John Norum joined on guitar. Billy White from the thrash metal band Watchtower was the second guitar player, giving Dokken a double guitar lineup (or three if you count Don himself). King Diamond’s Mikkey Dee was aboard on drums, several years away from joining Motorhead (and now Scorpions). Rounding out the band was veteran Accept bassist Peter Baltes, who played with Dokken in their earliest days.
With all this burning anger coupled with tremendous instrumental firepower, one might expect Don to come back rockin’ harder than ever. His solo album Up From the Ashes was a down-ratchet from Dokken, slightly, with an emphasis on melodic rock. It did however continue the core Dokken sound, with some biting and very Lynch-like guitar riffs.
Entering with the kind of jagged riffs that made Dokken famous, “Crash ‘N Burn” sounds almost exactly like Don’s old band. Hard rock, smooth vocals, and six-string acrobatics. There is no familiar Jeff Pilson backing vocal, but Peter Baltes and John Norum get the job done. The incredibly impressive guitar histrionics are clearly not George Lynch, but fans will love what John and Billy White cooked up. A strong follow-up called “1000 Miles Away” sits in a comfortable mid-tempo rock zone. It’s not a ballad, it’s not a rocker, but it’s somewhere in between. Hit material. The album’s single was a track called “Mirror Mirror”, with a stuttery Van Halen riff. The lyrics are very telling:
“Mirror mirror, on the wall,
Seven years, I survived them all,
Mirror mirror, tell me more,
If that was love, then love is war.”
Dokken had a roughly seven-year long life as a recording band, so think what you will.
A lot of Up From the Ashes fits into a nice little hard rock box, a little smoother around than edges than classic Dokken, but strong as ever. “When Some Nights” has a similar vibe to “1000 Miles Away”, and there are many others. No real weak songs abide within. There are only a few that are head and shoulders standouts. Among these is “Living a Lie”, a sharp Norum co-write with a Europe-like sound. Also up there, “Give It Up” is a brief blast of rock. “Stay” leans in a slightly more pop direction, successfully so.
Drony ballads are less impressive. “When Love Finds a Fool” is fortunately the only one, which does at least boast some impressive musical contributions from all the players. The momentum is killed by starting side two with this slow Scorpions-wannabe. Another issue is a slightly damp production, which makes the drums sound woefully underpowered. This is a shame since Mikkey Dee is such a drum demon.
With Up From the Ashes, Don re-established himself. Nobody could accuse him of leaning on George Lynch. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this band really should have been called Dokken.