Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 21: Dire Straits, "Brothers In Arms"

Artist: Dire Straits
Album: Brothers In Arms
Year: 1985
Label: Warner Bros.

Combining jazz with rock is one of the most difficult tasks to successfully complete. Usually, one of the two genres overpowers the other to the point where it disappears. Over nearly twenty years, Dire Straits perfected the formula, releasing six brilliant studio albums, and becoming worldwide superstars in the process. While none of their records are weak, their 1985 release, Brothers In Arms, presents everything that is great about the band, and remains one of the finest recordings in music history. Serving as the "turning point" into the digital age, Brothers In Arms stands as the first FULL digital recording to ever be released, as well as the first album to ever sell one million copies on CD, and it also was the first album to outsell LP versions on CD.

Brothers In Arms
achieved worldwide success (reaching #1 in more than a dozen countries), mostly based on the power of the albums' first and fifth single. Easily the most recognizable song of their entire career, the Grammy winning single, "Money For Nothing," remains a classic to this day. The song, which critiques modern musical culture, targeting MTV and artists who were more about image and excess-based lifestyles as opposed to musical talent, was ironically one of MTV's most popular videos ever. Many of the lyrics in the song caused quite a bit of controversy, especially lines like, "that little faggot with the earring and the makeup..." Even with the anti-MTV themes and alienating lyrics, at the core is a brilliantly constructed pop song and one of the greatest hooks ever.

The fifth single off of Brothers In Arms, is the much beloved "Walk Of Life." Soaring up the charts, it was Dire Straits best selling single, and presents everything that is great about well constructed pop songs. The Hammond organ intro to the song is easily one of the most recognizable riffs in history, and it can still be heard at sporting events throughout the world. Lyrically, "Walk Of Life" is a blast from the past, directly referencing songs like Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman" and "What I'd Say," Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and "Mack The Knife" among others. The song resonates still today, and in 2000, British pop-diva Billie Piper used the song title as the title of her third album.

Musically, Dire Straits remain one of the most minimalistic bands to ever record. While Mark Knopfler is worthy of the Guitar God status to which he is held, he is very much of the "more with less" school or musical composition. However, even without pressing notes into every available measure, the band still presents masterfully constructed pop songs throughout Brothers In Arms. At times pushing into a "new age" sound, the band heavily incorporates synthesizers and the aforementioned Hammond organ. Using these keyboards to create an often delicate musical landscape, Knopfler intertwines his superb guitar playing, with amazing riffs, as well as beautiful finger-picking throughout the record. Mixing in faint horn sections, as well as interchanging live and programmed drums, Brothers In Arms never fails to present some of the most gorgeous musical soundscapes ever recorded.

The common themes within the lyrics on Brothers In Arms is another aspect that helped to propel the album to the level of success which it achieved. This is due to the fact that Mark Knopfler also has a knack for writing some of the most ubiquitous lyrics ever penned. Rarely getting overly complex or deep into allusions, nearly all of the lyrics on Brothers In Arms describe experiences and feelings that can be understood by anyone and everyone. With songs like the title track, as well as "Your Latest Trick," Knopfler proves that he can write a beautiful, soulful song just as well as the sardonic, whimsical tunes for which he is best known. The album does shift to darker themes, as the second side of the album cal clearly be seen as a social critique of the wars that the UK was waging in both Nicaragua and El Salvador at the time of Brothers In Arms' release. Songs like "Ride Across The River" and the spectacularly melancholy title track are blunt, yet beautiful criticisms of the events, with Knopfler singing, "...but it's written in the starlight, and every line on your palm...we're fools to make war, on our brothers in arms."

One of the most creative and well respected bands in history, the music of Dire Straits remains relevant and admired to this day. Crafting perfect pop songs, both musically and lyrically, Mark Knopfler is highly regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of music. From sharp social criticism, to melodic love songs, to his trademark sarcastic takes on popular culture, Dire Straits showed amazing versatility while playing their hallmark jazz-rock fusion. Though they often took years between records, the results were always worth waiting for, and their entire catalog is worth owning. One of the best selling records of the 1980's, Dire Straits 1985 release, Brothers In Arms, is their finest recording of their career, and is one of the most important records ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Money For Nothing," "Walk Of Life," and "Brothers In Arms."

1 comment:

Daniel B said...

Knopfler's father served in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) during the 1947-1949 war of independence...and the title-track (which was also used hauntingly in the final episode of the 2nd season of West Wing) is supposedly a reference to this experience.

Phenomenal album---nice choice to review.