Dire Straits' self titled first album is one of that rarest of rock 'n' roll treasures: the flawless album. In each of Dire Strait's subsequent efforts - most of them still outstanding -Knopfler has let himself down: 'Communique' is too obviously an attempt to replicate this album; in 'Making Movies' he knackers great songs by not finishing them quickly enough (as he does in 'Love Over Gold', which is half an album of genius diluted over a whole record); and 'Brothers in Arms' and, to a greater extent, 'On Every Street' suffer from a degree of over-production which renders most of the material (though by no means all of it) pretty sterile. This first album suffers none of this malaise. The songs are focussed, pacey, and knopfler's custom strat growls and sings because it is played by a gifted man with something to prove. His love for the roots of blues and rock (hardly hip, in the middle of the punk explosion) is transparent - witness the swampy National guitar slide in 'Water of Love' - and elsewhere his unique fingerstyle pops, spits and sizzles like a wet finger on a hot iron. This album predate's Knopfler's discovery the Les Paul, or anything past number 6 on 'gain' knob on his amplifier, but his gently compressed guitar sound is all you'll want to hear. At times it's just staggering. On the other hand, this is no essay in fretboard exhibitionism. Knopfler's obvious influences are, in terms of vocal style Dylan (or if you're unkind, Oscar the Grouch) and in composition, J J Cale, and the instrumentation doesn't derogate from that. The one possible duff shot is the oddly highbrow lyric in 'In the Gallery' (the only example I'm aware of of the high art/low art debate in aesthetics being canvassed in a pop song), but Knopfler sounds so much like he means it - and the guitar breaks are so bitching - that you can forgive him for that. And his argument is convincing, too. The production is raw and honest, probably because the album was recorded on a shoestring by a bunch of unknowns, and it's a feel Knopfler would do well to go back to. 'Dire Straits' is timeless stuff. Lovely Job, Mark.
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Olly Buxton (ElectricRay)
Sep 26, 2009
Dec 22, 2010 09:37 PM UTC
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By the mid-'80s Dire Straits were a platinum band dismissed in their native England as safe, yuppie rockers, yet the original quartet's lean, guitar-driven music struggled to find a label home when first recorded in 1978. Mark Knopfler offers craggy vocals, literate blues-based songs, and sinuous, virtuosic guitar work. He melds keening solo lines and rapidly picked fills and dodges the synth washes and postpunk power chords of then-competing new wavers; he relies on atmosphere, character, and pure musicianship intead of heavy irony or pop fashion. "Sultans of Swing," codifies this stance, a galloping paean to aging jazz musicians playing for the sheer love of the music. This became a major hit and has endured as a radio classic. The album itself has proven equally sturdy thanks to cinematic imagery and the tightly wound arrangements of "Down to the Waterline," "Six Blade Knife," and "Water of Love."--Sam Sutherland