Saturday, 21 February 2015

I want my MTV! Brothers in Arms (1985) - Dire Straits

“Dire F***ing Straits!” I said emphatically to a nonplused office as I tried to communicate my abject horror that colleagues were so blissfully unfamiliar with one of the nation’s most successful and timeless pop groups. I rather felt that just the mere mention of the band would call to mind the durgy saccharine of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, the epic proportions of ‘Tunnel of Love and the grandeur of ‘Telegraph Road’... but no, nothing. I felt they should all leave, head to a Tower Records (or whatever the ‘now’ place is to buy CDs) and purchase a copy of Brothers In Arms, the perfect introduction to the band but also, to my mind, their greatest achievement. 

It’s hard to believe that the album is now 30 years old, a few months ago I wrote a post on Barbra Streisand’s Guilty (1980) in which I referenced the albums that influenced my aural upbringing. Brothers in Arms was indeed one of those select cassettes played to death in the car, so much so that we wore through two tapes and had to keep replacing it. It became such a favourite of mine that it was my first CD purchase in 1992, at W H Smith’s using a £20 note I had been given for my fifth birthday by a godparent. Ah those were the days, listening to the digitally crisp opening bars of ‘So Far Away’ I am instantly transported back. Indeed so much did I like the chorus of this song that I used it as a saucy opener on Tinder. It felt like a good idea at the time: ‘so far away from me, you’re so far I just can’t see...’ but needless to say no-one responded to it and I got a few de-matches, however, the song still remains. With a killer base hook, glistening slide guitar and catchy lyrics, it’s a great opener for one of the best albums of the decade. 

I’m not sure even Knopfler could have predicted how successful the second track on the album, ‘Money for Nothing’ would be when it was recorded. Now it’s regarded as a radio classic, played consistently on Absolute Radio, nearly as much as ‘No Son of Mine’ by Genesis and ‘Behind the Mask’ by Eric Clapton! When it was release in the late spring of 1985 it became a global phenomenon, driving sales of the Album. From the haunting opening wails of guest star Sting, the dramatic crescendo of the opening, to the now oh-so-familiar hook ‘naah-nah-nah-naah-nah-nah-nah-nah’ it’s like an orgasm for the ears. Yes the lyrics are dated and distinctly un-PC but who cares, it’s a great tune, loved and loathed in equally measure. The video, of course, was the talk of the town when it was released, taking advantage of the growing capabilities of 3D-imaging to create a now laughably-dated. 

Next comes the album’s piece de resistance, ‘Walk of Life’ a rock-a-billy influenced track and one which is guaranteed to get everyone on the dancefloor, usually dropping some very embarrassing twists, at a family event. It’s a simple tune but so infection, with a pulsing hammond organ riff and Knopfler’s exultant ‘woo-hoo’s’ a real favourite at 2:00am in the morning in the clubs of London even today! It’s an inter-course, a small slice of extasy before the album takes an altogether moodier turn, beginning with the album’s most musically accomplished track, ‘Latest Trick’. It’s a moody, jazzy track, underpinned by a plaintive saxaphone solo. Listening to it you do feel like you’re in some smoky dive in the heart of the city, two thirds of the way through a bottle of kentucky bourbon and sitting alongside an ashtray overflowing with a mountain of Gitane stubs. 

The music then starts to become introspective and, takes a distinctly anti-war theme, as if Knopfler had an idea of a concept album but didn’t quite take of. There’s plenty of semi acoustic guitars, woodwind and claustrophic percussion in tunes like ‘Why Worry’, ‘Ride Across the River’ and ‘Man Too Strong’.They are good tracks but they are definitely filler, they do not have the hit quality, memorability or resonance of the first four cuts. Of these my favourite is ‘Ride Across the River’ it has a film quality to it, you could definitely imagine it in one of the slew of hammy Vietnam pictures that were release in the mid and late 1980s. 

The penultimate track, ‘One World’, is easily the weakest cut on the album, and completely incongruous to the rest of the record. It seems odd that it found a place on Brothers In Arms, again it’s not a bad track but it does not match the songwriting level of any of the other songs. Anyway the closing number is a cracker, an atmospheric epic, somewhat overused by American dramas looking to convey a sense of futility, loss and tragedy. From Miami Vice to The West Wing, the wailing guitars and sombre organs of the title track resonate with all who hear it. Mark Knopfler’s understated vocals add to the drama and contribute to this being a fitting end to a tour-de-force album.

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