The Cassette Chronicles – Dokken’s ‘Back for the Attack’

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

DOKKEN – BACK FOR THE ATTACK (1987)

If we are marking specific eras of time, the year 1987 is probably a good way to mark the high point of hard rock and heavy metal. At least in terms of their commercial peak anyway. You had landmark albums from Guns ‘N Roses, Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Those three albums alone would make any child of the 80’s metal years flash back to when all was right with the musical world.

But what surprised me was just how much I think Dokken’s Back For The Attack compares favorably with any of those releases. To be sure, the album was commercially successful but it was only certified platinum so it might be easy to write the album off as an also-ran in a side to side comparison of sales figures with those other bands.

I’ve listened to this album and loved it for a long time, but I’ve never really listened to it for any kind of critical piece. So doing so for this article was a semi-new treat for me.

What I found was that my long held belief that this is Dokken’s best album remains true to this day. There’s not a bad song amongst the 13 tracks included on the cassette. Strikingly, there’s not really much in the way of a power ballad either. I know that by 1987, that was almost a universal law but while some people might simply declare the song “Heaven Sent” to fall under that banner, it really isn’t. In fact, it has such an effervescent soundtrack that I caught myself thinking that the song was a prime example of rumbling sonic thunder. It really does leave listeners in its wake.

I think what is underestimated most about this album is that for all their interpersonal faults and feuds, Don Dokken, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown pulled off a songwriting coup. Each of the tracks were written by some combination of the individual members and the passion that fueled the band drama was also poured into the songwriting as well.

The first side of the album opens with “Kiss Of Death”, a song that found Dokken getting a bit topical as the subject of the song dealt with AIDS at a time where you wouldn’t really expect a band of the metal genre to tackle that subject. It might be stating the obvious given his acknowledged guitar god status, but the guitar work on this song will have you renewing your appreciation of George Lynch. The man shreds with everything he does, but when you haven’t listened to any of his work in a while, I know that I find myself surprised all over again. And when you hear the “Mr. Scary” instrumental, you find yourself picking your jaw off the floor. More than 30 years after it was released, that song just continues to amaze.

The album had three singles released from it and “Prisoner” is the only one that is on Side One. As with the rest of the album, I loved the song but I didn’t remember it as a single. I could’ve sworn that “Heaven Sent” was a single but not according to the information I found online as I researched the article.

“Night By Night” is a pretty darn good song as well, but the real treat was rediscovering “Standing In The Shadows”. When I first bought the album, it was one of the songs I liked the most but I had kind of forgotten that. It’s a bit more understated than other tracks on the album but if you want a song that is an underappreciated gem, I’d go with this one.

When you flip the album over to Side Two, you are hit with the song “So Many Tears” and immediately the rocking nature of the material continues onward. One of the other singles from the album was the song “Burning Like A Flame”. I remember watching the video a lot on MTV but as I listened to the song here, a different memory surfaced. I remember reading an article in a music magazine that had the writer on hand for the filming of the video. I can’t remember which magazine it was, but the memory did resurface as the song played.

I don’t know how other fans feel about the song “Lost Behind The Wall”, but the tone of the song struck a chord with me. It made me want to see the song expanded upon somehow, like there was more to the story of the song or something. Funny how you get that kind of vibe so far down the road from when you first heard the track.

The album continued on with more top notch rockers like “Stop Fighting Love”, “Cry Of The Gypsy” and “Sleepless Nights”, but it was the closing number “Dream Warriors” that finished the album off on a high note for me.

The song was originally released a few months earlier as the title cut on the soundtrack for the horror movie Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. It was a pretty successful single for the band and seeing it added to the Back For The Attack album wasn’t a real surprise. The funny thing about this song was that it was pretty much the biggest reason I went to see the movie in the first place. I’ve never been a big fan of horror movies, but I did see the 2nd movie in the Nightmare on Elm Street series and so when I found out Dokken was doing a song on the soundtrack, I knew I would go see it. Oddly enough, I think Dream Warriors was pretty much the last horror movie I ever bothered to go see in the theaters.

It might seem strange that an album that sold over a million copies strikes me as being underappreciated by rock fans at large but I just don’t think Back For The Attack gets the kind of love or reverence that it should. This is where Dokken put it all together and produced from start to finish their absolute best album!

NOTES OF INTEREST – While the band is still touring to this day, the Dokken lineup now features just singer Don Dokken from the classic lineup on a regular basis. There has been some reunion dates the past few years with the original lineup but drummer Mick Brown is at least temporarily retired now, Jeff Pilson is in Foreigner and George Lynch has a host of projects including work with Michael Sweet of Stryper and the band KXM with Dug Pinnick of King’s X and Ray Luzier of Korn.

I never got to see Dokken live during their best years. After this album and the succeeding live release, they broke up amidst that recurring feuding I mentioned before. But when they got back together (the first time anyway), I saw them live thanks to a friend having a free pass for me. I think it was in 1997 but I can’t recall for sure.

Back For The Attack has been reissued twice on CD. The second reissue came via Rock Candy Records but both versions of the reissue added the “Back For The Attack” song as a bonus cut. The first three Dokken albums (Breaking The Chains, Tooth And Nail and Under Lock And Key as well as the live album Beast From The East have also been given the reissue/remaster treatment from Rock Candy as well.

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