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After regaining a large amount of credibility with their fans with the release of “Erase The Slate”, an album the reestablished the band’s riff driven metal credentials and spelled the end of any future experimentation in the murky world of grunge mediocrity, Dokken came to a crossroads of sort and had to decide whether they would continue revisiting their past of try something different. Having dropped the flamboyant 80s guitarist Reb Beach, they ended up picking up former Europe guitarist John Norum, an axe slinger whose metal credentials are a bit firmer than Reb’s, his appearance on “The Final Countdown” not withstanding. But unlike the expected result of more 80s inspired metal, what ends up coming about is a dark and somewhat doom rock oriented exploration of Don Dokken’s deeper side.
“Long Way Home” is essentially what “Dysfunctional” could have been if it had been better organized, more focused, and consisted of songs with more hooks and less jam-like meandering. The guitar is low end heavy, not all that far off from what Tony Iommi would occasional experiment with on Sabbath’s mid 90s efforts or the equally dark and bluesy tone heard out of Rowan Robertson on Dio’s 5th studio LP “Lock Up The Wolves”. It’s not a completely dark album and does make time for some pristine ballad work as only Dokken can deliver, but much like the harder rocking material on here, is well outside the light and fluffy pop work that worked its way into their still riff happy 80s music.
For a person who had been shouting his lungs out behind a microphone for more than 20 years at the time this album was put together, Don’s voice is still in pretty good shape. Mid tempo hard rockers such as “Heart Full Of Soul” and groovy thudding ones like “You” show that he’s still capable of throwing out some solid high notes and harmonize his own voice with solid, squeaky clean results. John Norum’s riffs are pummeling throughout both of these songs, and actually succeed in being not only the heaviest thing that he has ever done, but that of anything heard with the name Dokken attached to it. Part of this could be attributed to the solid bass work of Barry Sparks, who came into the fold to replace Jeff Pilson, who jumped ship after “Erase The Slate”.
There’s top notch moments littered throughout this album, as well as a couple of somewhat lackluster moments. The good include the songs mentioned earlier, along with the bludgeoning yet catchy opener “Sunless Days”, the nostalgic and poignant piano and acoustic ballad “There Was A Time”, and the best song on here “Under The Gun”, which ratchets up the tempo back to the level accomplished on those occasional fits of speed metal heard on Dokken’s early albums, but still holding onto the darker, Sabbath-like character in the guitars. The weak spots are mostly found on the other 2 ballads “Goodbye My Friend” and “I’ve Found”, both of which start with an okay idea but never really get anywhere. Unfortunately Don still retains that bad habit of stuffing just a few too many ballads onto his albums here, but its forgivable given the quality of all the other music on here.
Although this album is probably the most uncharacteristic of the band as everyone tends to remember them, I’d still put it ahead of the two more recent ones due to better songwriting and an all around better vocal performance. It’s definitely something that takes some time to fully get into, and you’d have to have at least some level of appreciation for what the band tried to do with “Dysfunctional” before you completely get it. It’s the first and only collaboration that the band did with John Norum, who later went back to Europe when the band reformed in 2004 for an attempt at restarting their career which apparently took off as their still going to this day.