Dokken: ‘Erase The Slate’

DOKKEN
ERASE THE SLATE
Released on June 15, 1999 (CMC International)

Review:
My first introduction to the band Dokken was in 1987 when they recorded the theme song to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I just started to be a horror fan at this time; I was into the Freddy Krueger films more so than the “Halloween” or the “Friday the 13th” films. Years later, I had a cassette copy of the band’s Back For The Attack release, although I did not listen to it much. It wasn’t until college, on the campus of Kent State University, when I really sat down to listen to Dokken‘s music, finally getting enough funds to join the BMG Music Club service. I was looking for some music to experiment with in the hard rock genre, so I took a chance after seeing the cover of Erase The Slate within the pages of the club’s catalog.

I was always a fan of guitar player Reb Beach, from his time in Winger (yes, the band that was not cool to like thanks to MTV‘s Beavis and Butthead show), and saw him live with Alice Cooper in 1996, which was not far from Beach‘s hometown of Pittsburgh. When the CD came in the mail, and I saw that Beach was the guitar player on this release, I was even more excited to blast it in my off-campus apartment. The opening three tracks did not disappoint when cranking it on the first listen. In fact, whenever I think of Dokken or this release, the first thing that comes to mind is these first three songs.

The first track, the title song “Erase The Slate,” has a rocking guitar solo by Beach, who throughout this release shows why he is an amazing (and under looked) guitar player when mentioning some of the greats in the genre. The guitar work, along with the thunderous, power drumming of Mick Brown, carries the album on almost every track. My favorite song off the album is without a doubt — “Change The World” — which comes in second. The opening sound has a chugging groove to it that switches to a mid- tempo feel during the verses. The opening groove reminded me of ’70s Sammy Hagar or early ’80s Ozzy. Lyrically, the song is a different take on a guy trying to please the person in the relationship, especially with the line “The promise that you want the most/is not for me to keep.” The words have a deeper context to it, besides the normal “let’s party” or the “stay with me” relationship themes that other bands of the era were still trying to send out. I like vocalist Don Dokken‘s voice on this song as well.

“Maddest Hatter,” has reference to Alice In Wonderland, talking about a conversation with his “rabbit friend” while having tea. The lyrics tend to run into each other during the verses, but that makes it have its appeal for this listener. The fact that a hatter dealt with insanity due to the mercury poisons used in the hat making business fits in nicely at the end of the song, where the tempo starts speeding up into a combustion of power and craziness. This was one other song I constantly played off of the CD at college at the time. Also, having a degree in English, I can enjoy whenever literary references to characters from books can be added into songs.

After not listening to this for many years, the song “Drown” reminds me of a song that possibly could’ve been placed on Alice Cooper‘s Brutal Planet release. This song is a little darker than the first several songs. Listening to the whole album at once, this song seems out of place in being the fourth track after the first three songs. Taking nothing away from the great musicianship on the whole release by all the members, listening to it today as a whole album, the placement of the songs is a frequent complaint of my overall experience.

I always like finding a hidden gem when I review albums; listening to a song that may surprise me that I didn’t get the feel of when I first got the release. Sometimes when we shelve a release for a while, a song may pop up that we may not have enjoyed the first time around, especially us musicians learning to appreciate something later on in our lives. “Shattered” is one of the songs I found to be the case here. The backing vocals are stronger than on the other songs so far on the album , along with a bluesy opener before the it kicks in. This is a mid-tempo song, but still has a heavy feel to it. Lyrically, this could’ve been a ballad, but with most of the tracks being heavy, it fits well with the flow of the songs as a whole. I would have placed the track at number four (after “Maddest Hatter”), which would have really worked with an overall theme. The spoken part at the end of the song, where the song mellows out again, has a throwback influence of The Doors.

Track six is the cover of Three Dog Night’s “One.” I like the 1960’s music, and like some bands remaking songs for their enjoyment, but this does nothing for me. This song really doesn’t fit the flow of the album, and I would skip this one. If this was a bonus track, I may understand it more, but after hearing the great “Shattered,” this song is a let down. Once again, the song placement hurts it for me. “Who Believes” is a great ballad, with some dark lyrics to it. The narrator is struggling to sleep and see the light , hoping that the darkness will be set free. I will say after the cover song before it, this song gets me excited about the album again.

Bass player Jeff Pilson carries the next song “Voice of The Soul.” Lyrically, whether the song is about religion, medieval times, or the internal aspects of the road of life, this is another song that sparked my interest listening to it years later. Pilson is a musician who has played in many different styles, and wears many hats, to which I applaud his versatility. It was because of Pilson and Kelly Hansen that I became a Foreigner fan (I know many purists will scoff at me for this, but I was not a huge fan of that band before 2009, except for some of the hits).

Drummer Mick Brown takes the lead vocals on “Crazy Mary Goes Round,” which is just a plain, fun song. This song is just about a girl, where some of the other lyrics on the album have darker, deeper connotations to it. This has a great guitar solo, is under three minutes, and a rock out tune, which I would argue would been great as the closer on the album. It is different from the other songs, being not as heavy as the tracks before it, but it still doesn’t sound dated for the time. Some have stated that it has a Stone Temple Pilot feel to it, which I can hear the comparison. This is another surprise song for me. Being a former drummer, it’s always nice to see the guy in the back get vocal spots, especially on the albums.

Track 10 is “Haunted Lullabye.” Brown‘s drumming, and Beach‘s guitar playing are as good as the rest of the album, but this song reminded me of a grunge sounding song, with the effects on the vocals on the first part, and the overall structure to the song. I was never a grunge fan, so this song is not one that I would not listen to if it wasn’t for this review (much like any Grunge genre band).  The song has a mid -tempo groove, and once again, the placing of this song, right after a feel good rock song like “Mary,” just stops the flow of the overall consistency for me.  Brown‘s drum fills add to the song, which is one bright spot of the track.

The last track (besides a hidden track) is “In Your Honor.” I have mentioned in previous reviews that very few bands or musical acts can pull off having a ballad as the last song on the album. This song had a Stryper feel to it in my opinion. I think if the song was placed after “Who Believes”, I would like it more. It is not a bad song, but when I want to end an album, I want to hear something that’ll make me want more, usually something that rocks out and makes the album worth my time well spent for the hour I’m listening to the recording. This song doesn’t do excite me in thinking that way, especially after a grunge type song before it. Listening to the song by itself is not a bad thing (I went back and did that), but placing it at the end of the whole album didn’t excite me. A hidden track , an instrumental one minute jam, with Pilson‘s bass up front on the song ends the release. It is a nice jam song, but after the ballad, it didn’t give me any emotion one way or another.

The release gave me memories of my time into the BMG Music Club, where I got to experiment with different bands and music. I remember liking the first several songs so much that I went out and bought the band’s live VHS concert release Live From The Sun. Reb Beach really shines on this album. Although I have complaints on the overall placing of the songs, the album has many bright spots, including “Change The World,” “Shattered,” and “Crazy Mary Goes Round.” I was not a major Dokken fan before I got this CD, but years later, when browsing a bookstore bargain bin, I decided to pick up a few of Dokken‘s more “classic” CDs. Sometimes it takes one experimental album to dig deeper into a band’s catalog. Erase The Slate was the one that made me first start listening to Dokken.

Track List:
01 Erase The Slate
02 Change The World
03. Maddest Hadder
04. Drown
05. Shattered
06. One
07. Who Believes
08. Voice of The Soul
09. Crazy Mary Goes Round
10. Haunted Lullabye
11. In Your Honor

Band Members:
Don Dokken – lead and backing vocals
Reb Beach – lead and rhythm guitars
Jeff Pilson -bass guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, mellotron, keyboards
Mick Brown – drums, lead vocals (9), backing vocals

Production:
Engineered by Rob Easterday
Additional engineering: Wyn Davis and Michael Perfitt
Assistant engineers: Bernd Burgdorf, Scott Francisco and Wes Seidman
Mixed by Tom Fletcher
Mixing assistant: Rob Brill
Mastered by Gene Grimaldi and Tom Baker

Band Websites:
Official Website
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Reviewed by Lance Lumley for Sleaze Roxx, June 2019

Dokken performing “Erase The Slate” live in 1999:

Dokken – Erase The Slate Live

Live From The Sun 1999