After getting off to a patchy start with their thrown-together 1982 debut, Breaking the Chains (recorded mere weeks after they'd become a band), Dokken replaced departed bassist Juan Croucier (bound for Ratt) with Jeff Pilson, and really seemed to gel as a proper musical unit on their impressive sophomore album, Tooth and Nail. But notwithstanding a minor European hit achieved with that record's single, "Into the Fire," the quartet had yet to experience a commercial breakthrough back home in America, a breakthrough that would finally arrive after the release of Under Lock and Key in November 1985. However, Dokken's third album was hardly a monster hit, peaking at number 32 and only gradually marching toward gold, then platinum certifications, thanks to a string of successful but hardly explosive singles, the band's grueling touring schedule (supporting AC/DC, Judas Priest, Dio, etc.), and, let's be frank, some crucial "tarting up" of the musicians for the extremely image-conscious MTV generation. Take Under Lock and Key away from these temporal sales drivers, though, and one still has quite possibly Dokken's most "complete" album, with a little something for every type of fan -- including memorable singles like "In My Dreams" and "It's Not Love" (which rode effectively cornball videos into the Top 40 chart), fist-pumping headbangers like "Lightnin' Strikes Again" and "Til the Livin' End," and saccharine ballads like "Slippin' Away" and "Jaded Heart" (never the band's strongest suit, it should be noted). Most importantly, Under Lock and Key also boasts two almost peerless examples of Dokken's best songwriting template -- bittersweet mid-paced rockers -- in the opening tandem of "Unchain the Night" and "The Hunter," both of which also pack fantastic solos from guitar wizard George Lynch. Along with the aforementioned diversity of styles, it's ultimately these two defining tracks that still make Under Lock and Key the best introduction to Dokken's sound -- even though heavy metal purists tend to prefer Tooth and Nail for its combined aggression and consistency.
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia