Music, My Stories

The Record Vault: Dokken – Shadowlife

I was excited when I purchased this. A new Dokken album in 1997 with all the original members still on board. Who would have thought they survived the “Dysfunctional” album and tour?

“Dysfunctional” was an excellent return a few years before, and this album would put Dokken back onto the path of greatness. Just by looking at the song titles, my interest skyrocketed.

But.

I looked at the label logo and it wasn’t Columbia. John Kalodner had dropped the band. Instead, it was CMC.

CMC was a label that was signing hard rock and metal bands dropped from major labels. And they then tried to make these bands not sound like themselves by making em work with modern hip producers.

I pressed play.

I listened. I skipped tracks.

I got to the end.

I went and made a coffee.

I came back to the stereo.

I pressed play.

I listened more attentively.

I looked at the CD booklet, the lyrics, the production notes, the thank you.

I still skipped tracks.

I made another coffee.

I pressed play.

I tried to focus on what I would like. Like the guitar riffs.

“Puppet On A String”

The verse riff from Lynch is very Tool/Alice In Chains like with little hard rock fills here and there and I like it. But lyrically and vocally it’s uninspired.

“Cracks In The Ground”

It sounds like it could have come from the “Dysfunctional” album. It’s got that psychedelic Beatles like feel which they used in “The Maze”.

“Sky Beneath My Feet”

Listen to the Led Zep “Kashmir” influenced riffs in the verses. Or a song from The Cult’s “Sonic Temple” comes to mind. Regardless there are some cool musical moments here.

“Until I Know”

Feedback noise, a drum and bass groove and then lush acoustic strummed guitars come in.

Musically, the song is good, but like the previous songs, they all suffer from forgettable vocal melodies. Dio was also suffering the same pain with his “Angry Machines” album and many other acts during this time didn’t know what kind of melodies to write.

I always liked it when artists stuck to the hard rock vocal melodies and intertwine them with the more current sounding music.

Wild Mick doing his bit for the Cancer Council.

“Hello”

This one is a good example of sticking with hard rock vocal melodies and intertwining them with the industrial sounding music. But then, they put a loudspeaker effect on Don’s voice and it all goes to hell.

They should have kept him in clean tone.

“Convenience Store Messiah”

A forgettable acoustic track.

“I Feel”

It sounds like a D grade Collective Soul cut, musically.

“Here I Stand”

The intro riff is classic Dokken and lead vocals are performed by Jeff Pilson who was already involved on a confusing album with Dio on “Angry Machines”.

“Hard To Believe”

It’s a ballad and Lynch tries really hard to not play anything clichéd. His chord selections and voicings are so far removed from his well-known power chord to devils tritone.

It really is hard to believe that this is Dokken.

“Sweet Life”

It’s got a blues rock swinging groove.

Make sure you check out the riff after the Chorus.

Then the middle section feels like a Wild West stand-off is taking place musically before it moves back to the blues rock swinging groove.

And the song ends just after 4 minutes with no guitar solo.

From the double CD One Live Night and Shadowlife

“Bitter Regret”

The acoustic riff is worthy of attention.

“I Don’t Mind”

I still skip it.

Also from the double CD

“Until I Know (Slight Return)”

It’s an instrumental blues jam and I like it. But its short and maybe it should have stayed with the original track instead of separating the two parts.

Overall there wasn’t enough quality here, nor was there a killer song to sell it and as a fan of George Lynch, it’s a shame that this is his last full studio album with the band.

Throughout the album, I was saying, “are these the same members that delivered songs like “Kiss Of Death”, “Prisoner”, “Too High To Fly”, “In My Dreams”, “Lightning Strikes Again” and etc.

It is Dokken’s worst album by far, but then again, experimental albums rarely set the world on fire. Queen seemed to have a knack at being successful with it, because they always had a song on the album which was catchy and would become a hit or a fan favourite.

And some quotes from the members.

“Well, the change in sound was due to the fact that the world had changed so much and it was us trying to adapt.

We had been listening to a lot of TOOL records at that point. Plus the producer, Kelly Gray, was very much from the whole Seattle world — not into the melodic rock world, really.

So how I look back on that record is that there were some nice moments, but overall, just not an inspired piece of work.”
Jeff Pilson

“I was very disappointed with “Shadowlife”. When we went into “Shadowlife”, George was into Monster Magnet, Tool and stuff like that. I listened to the songs he had written and I’m like, “George, we’re not Tool! We’re not detuned! We’re not Monster Magnet, I just don’t get it!”

I hated that album so much that I didn’t allow them to put my Dokken logo on that record. That’s the only Dokken record where there’s not a Dokken logo on it. It’s just has a typical font.

To put it into perspective, ‘Dysfunctional’ sold 450,000 copies after it’s cycle, when we released ‘Shadowlife’ it sold 50,000 copies.”
Don Dokken

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Music

Why Chris DeGarmo walked away from it all?

Chris DeGarmo didn’t just leave Queensryche, he left the whole music business back in 1997. Just like another favourite of mine, Vito Bratta, they spent their whole lives making it only to walk away from it all.

Recently, Geoff Tate stated the following on jammagazineonline.com;

“It never was a brotherhood. It was a bunch of kids that got together and achieved success at an early age. We got used to that success and continued doing the things we did to get that success. We found comfort in our way of working. It’s just that simple. We were never close. We never hung out doing stuff and sharing life. It was always just, “Hey, we have another record to make. Anyone have any ideas? Let’s try to make a record. Here we go.”

Between the years of 1981 and 1992, Queensryche had been on a cycle of album and tour. After the Empire tour ended, Chris DeGarmo just unplugged himself from the music industry. He stated the same in a Guitar World interview from January 1995. When you detach yourself like this, it puts a lot of other events into perspectives.

Geoff Tate commented in a Kerrang magazine interview on the break after the Empire tour;

“It wasn’t planned, it just kind of happened. After the ‘Empire’ tour we all went our separate ways for a while. Before we knew it eight months had gone by. ‘Empire’ bought us a lot of time, really. Before that album it had been just a hectic schedule of recording and touring. ‘Empire’s success allowed us to have a nice break, something we hadn’t known until then. It was strange taking time off. I think it was at that point it dawned on us that we’d achieved all the goals we’d set. It was actually kind of difficult to know which move to make next.”

The achievement of their goals is an important point to make. When you feel like you have done all you set out to do, the hunger and the desire starts to die down. It becomes harder to focus again. It becomes harder to detach yourself from your family. So coming into the Promised Land album writing process, it was more or less done from their homes. It took about 8 months to get the material together, and then it was off to a secluded log cabin for another six months to piece together and record the album.

In the same Kerrang interview, Michael Wilton didn’t share the same enthusiasm for the finished product, however he did admit that the album is special in its own way.

“The way we set it all up was real innovative and allowed us to be more inspired, but a lot of the songs I came up with didn’t get finished because the album kind of went in a different direction. It was actually a bit more left-field to the way I think.”

This is another important point to make. Guitarists play a musical instrument, so it is normal that a guitarist will write music. So when a guitarist writes music and it is rejected for whatever reason, it is not a good feeling. I have been in situations just like this. I was coming up with metal riffs, and the band was moving into a Nu Metal phase, that just didn’t suit what I was writing. I had two options, leave the band and start a new one, or just put up with it. In this case, Wilton put up with it and in the end only had two song writing credits for the Promised Land album. He even had less of an input into the Hear Of The Now Frontier album. He only had one song writing credit on the Frontier album. I am pretty sure, he would have been the first person to let Chris DeGarmo now that it was his fault when the album didn’t set the sales charts on fire.

Furthermore, when the band was asked the question, if success has changed them, DeGarmo answered in the following way;

“I’ve probably become a hermit! I don’t really socialise that much. I don’t think I ever really did anyway. I somehow thought that it might change me as a person. I don’t think of myself as an unhappy person, but you think that money might limit the struggle. The thing is, I was so passionate about what we were doing that I never noticed we were struggling anyway! If anything. I think I’m more appreciative of the personal time I get to spend with my wife and daughter.”

So the Promised Land album comes out and the real fans flock to it. The tour is a success and the band members go their separate ways again. Then the bands label EMI America goes bankrupt. The rest of the band members don’t appear to be interested or concerned by this, and it was left to Chris DeGarmo to negotiate a new deal, not just for himself but for the others as well. During this time, the band had the songs written for the album, however they had to wait for Peter Collins schedule to free up, so they can record it. Again, more time away from each other as they wait for a producer.

Hear In The Now Frontier comes out and it doesn’t do well in a commercial sense. By 1997, recorded sales is the definition of success. DeGarmo is blamed for the commercial failure by the other band members, as he was the main songwriter/leader on the album.

Let’s look at how the song writing dynamic changed from Operation Mindcrime to Hear In The Now Frontier.

Operation Mindcrime had 15 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 9 songs. Tate wrote/co-wrote 12 song. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 7 songs. Rockenfield wrote/co-wrote 1 song and Jackson didn’t write anything.

Empire had 11 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 9 songs. Tate wrote/co-wrote 8 songs. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 5 songs. Rockenfield and Jackson both wrote/co-wrote 1 song.

Promised Land had 11 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 9. Tate wrote/co-wrote 7. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 2. Rockenfield wrote/co-wrote 3 and Jackson wrote/co-wrote 1.

Hear In The Now Frontier had 14 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 13 songs. Tate wrote/co-wrote 7. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 1 song. Rockenfield wrote/co-wrote 2 songs and Jackson didn’t write anything.

The main thing to take out of the above stats is the increasing song writing role of Chris DeGarmo and the diminishing role of Michael Wilton. Tate was always consistent, however his piece d resistance was Mindcrime, whereas Empire was DeGarmo’s piece d resistance.

So when you feel like you have put your heart and soul into managing the affairs of a band and then still get blamed when events don’t pan out well, you ask yourself, what is the point in doing this. Just as so many of us walk away from a job that started off great, Chris DeGarmo did the same with Queensryche.

If the Hear In The Now Frontier album outsold Empire, it would be a different Queensryche world.

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