Singer Don Dokken and drummer Mick Brown may be all that's left of the original Dokken, but the group's signature blend of pop and heavy metal has changed little since their late-'80s heyday. The problem is, they were never that interesting to begin with. On Hell to Pay, the role of ex-guitar legend George Lynch is played by ex-Warlock axe slinger John Levin, and the departure of original bass player Jeff Pilson brings ex-Ted Nugent and Yngwie Malmsteen collaborator Barry Sparks into the fold, resulting in a record that's impeccably played but mediocre at best. Levin brings an elegant, almost Middle Eastern sense of melodicism to the promising opener, "Last Goodbye," and an old-school bluesy swagger to "Haunted," and Don Dokken's voice has settled nicely into a smooth lupine growl that complements the tight arrangements, but there's a blandness to the whole affair that envelops the record after "Prozac Nation." Perhaps it's the fact that the obligatory power ballad, "Care for You," which is apparently so powerful that it needs to be played again at the end of the record in an "unplugged" version -- do keyboards not need to be plugged in? -- or maybe it's the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus heavy metal song template that usually only works for one song a record, but it seems like most of the dinosaurs of the hair metal genre have run out of ideas. Despite the inclusion of the irreverent -- and highly enjoyable -- Beatlesque rave-up "Letter to Home," Hell to Pay does little to pull Dokken out from the tar pits.
Hell to Pay Review
by James Christopher Monger