1985, Music

Brothers in Arms (1985) by Dire Straits

Ten years ago I wrote the following:

This might not be so bad if they had actually hired a producer.  It’s like Knopfler put a big stamp on this record saying “This album was recorded in the ’80s!”  Knopfler’s production is the aural equivalent of those ’50s sci-fi films that imagined the “futuristic” ’70s and now make us laugh… oh how silly they were to think that’s what the future would look like, te he he.  They tried to make this sound “modern” and hear what happened.

His songs aren’t all mediocre.  “Money for Nothing,” aside from having one of the classic guitar licks from the ’80s, is a pretty good attempt at replicating what regular joes probably felt when looking at synth pop/”hair metal” bands on MTV.  “Walk of Life” and “So Far Away” would have been decent without the “Hey, did we mention it’s ’85?” production.  However, “Your Latest Trick” is about as bad as pop music posing as “fusion” gets.

Something else might’ve resulted had they actually found someone who can make records.

That was the last time I listened to this record – the only Dire Straits record I have ever heard, until the last week or so.

I think I like Knopfler as a songwriter. I like a lot of his lyrics (though not all): for example, despite being overplayed, I think the lyrics to “Money for Nothing” are pretty great. I think there is probably an incredible cover of “Your Latest Trick” out there which reveals it as an absolutely classic song. That might be true of some of the other songs here as well.

And Knopfler is a distinct guitar player. I have always loved “Sultans of Swing” – the only Dire Straits song I really know well – because of his playing. And I admire his ability to pay in a style all his own, completely divorced from what was going on in contemporary music.

I suspect I would like an album of Mark Knopfler songs and guitar playing, in certain circumstances. I think maybe this means I should check out his solo career, or perhaps Dire Straits albums that weren’t made to sound “contemporary.”

Sometimes, embracing new technology is a great thing. Like with 8- and 16-track recording. That led to lots of great new music (and some terrible music). But the technological innovations of the late ’70s and most of the ’80s have been employed, for the most part, for Evil.

I don’t think it’s hypocritical for me to praise Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins for inventing the bad ’80s drum sound in 1980 – when it really was innovative – and attack this album for using too much bad ’80s drum sound in 1985.

And it’s not just the bad ’80s drums – which really aren’t used that much. It’s the bad ’80s keyboards – present on nearly every song. And particularly it’s the bad ’80s saxophone on “Your Latest Trick.” These things make me want to kill somebody. (Phil Collins?)

And that’s too bad, as Knopfler is probably the 4th best Pub Rock / British New Wave songwriter ever – after Costello, Lowe and Sting – and he’s a hell of a unique player. And I want to like him.

I’ve bumped up my 10-year old review by one star, because this isn’t terrible. Strong songs and playing distorted by terrible production are still strong songs and playing.


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