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Death is a universal part of life; it encompasses all things and walks ever closely beside Life in a sense of harmony. These two concepts in themselves do not lend to the attributes of good or evil, for such things are measured only through actions, not through merely being. When I first heard this album I heard the death of one of my favorite guitar driven 80s bands due to a disease, and that disease’s symptoms were the sounds of a different music, a funeral march.
My initial reaction was one of complete and utter disgust, as anyone would react when they see a band that helped define the music of entire generation surrender its own greatness as a leader in order to follow a lesser art. This album is first and foremost a Grunge album, containing a cesspool of inspirations thrown together into a random collage, signifying nothing other than the vertigo of a tired old man in bed ready for a visit from the reaper.
The songs are simple in structure, ideas are repeated to the point of sheer redundancy, the solos meander in the directionless fashion of a blind man in a lookout tower, and the overall tone of the album reeks of a borrowed life. The album title “Shadowlife” is fitting as the music on here is a mere shadow of the potential of those who conceived it, a potential that is held chained where no one can see it by the guilt of its own goodness in a time where mediocrity stood in its stead.
The lyrics on here are pure self-parody, manifesting itself in the garbled sexual tension of “Puppet on a String”, the Dadaist buffoonery of “Convenience Store Messiah”, and the paradoxical anthem of witty yet nonsensical clichés “Sky Beneath my Feet”. If you tune out the words and pretend that Don Dokken is just humming, you are still a victim of the intentionally poor vocal production and the weak attempts at guising his vocal identity as that of Chris Cornell or Eddie Vedder.
The riffs are redundant rock and grunge ideas that are either partially original or completely pirated off of other bands at the time. The intro to “Puppet on a String” is interchangeable with Sponge’s “Plowed”; a song that enjoyed a good amount of success two years before this album was penned, thus making the motivation completely obvious. The solo is plenty fast and furious, but completely unmemorable, unlike better versions provided by Jerry Cantrell. “Sky Beneath my Feet” sounds like a second rate rip-off from the sounds heard on The Cult’s Sonic Temple. “Hello” has some occasional bass wankery mixed with newer Queensryche sounding riffs and extremely processed sounding vocal tracks. The bulk of the rest of the stuff on here can be found on releases by Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Blind Melon and Soul Asylum.
Of all the songs on here, probably one of the few examples of something that is an unoriginal that is still enjoyable to listen to is “Here I Stand”, which is a pure 100% Soundgarden rip-off. Don Dokken’s vocals are such a good clone of Chris Cornell’s upper mid ranged voice that there are times that you forget this guy sang “In my Dreams”. The solo has the same style of Kim Thayil noise manipulation and feedback usage appropriate to this style. Hell, the only thing not a rip off is that Mick Brown saw fit to keep his snare drum tuned to a non-piecing tension level.
So as I begin to contemplate destroying this piece of shit that guises as an album, I am suddenly taken by a moment of nostalgia, in the form of a simple acoustic guitar line. I thought I was listening to an unplugged version of something from their mid 80s repertoire, but the words were wrong; there was no happiness or longing in them, only memory. “Bitter Regret” signifies the feeling that many fans of metal felt at this time, alone without the music that they still wanted, but were told was dead and gone. It is the funeral march at the end of a rather pathetic requiem mass, but the chorus’ message of not living with regret and still looking forward to things being made right again is not lost on those who listen to it.
The 80s was a very unique time, a time where people made music as best they could and penned words of passion and merriment. Dokken was a big part of it all, pumping out classic songs that forced you to sing along and smile in spite of yourself. Somewhere along the way people decided that growing up meant giving that up and morphing into a bunch of cynical assholes who write words about hopelessness and directionless angst. At his worst, Kurt Cobain and his brethren were whinny nobodies who were given the microphone to vent their woes of choosing mediocrity and hating others who didn’t go along with them, but Dokken should have known better.
This album is recommended to no one whom seeks credibility in their music. If you want quality Metal injected Grunge Rock, go to the source and listen to Soundgarden or Alice in Chains. This album is a tragic end to what was once a great band, and the only thing it can accomplish is to further depress fans of older Dokken material whom are still confused about the directionless music on this album’s quasi-Alternative Rock predecessor Dysfunctional. Nothing they have released since has been worth it, nor will it ever be, I am sad to say it but this band truly did write its own funeral march, so let them be buried with it, and let us only regret that they saw necessary to do so.