Sunday, October 7, 2018

Bound to Roam

Dire Straits : Southbound Again

On October 7, 1978,  Dire Straits released its self-titled debut album, recorded in just 12 days, after the band had opened for Talking Heads on their 1978 U.K. tour. How many red Fender Stratocaster guitars did Mark Knopfler sell thanks to this album, which sold 11 million copies worldwide? It remains a thoroughly satisfying listen all these years later, even after I discovered the music of J.J. Cale, which must have had a huge influence on the proceedings.

In his review for Rolling Stone, Ken Tucker wrote "Dire Straits is one of those quietly subversive albums whose sober lucidity reeks of rapid obscurity. It doesn’t deserve such a sad fate." He highlighted "Sultans of Swing" (US#4,1979) and a track many might consider a deep cut:

“Setting Me Up” sports a standard mangled-romance theme, but the verbiage is masticated by Knopfler’s growling, annoyed singing, with a giddy country-guitar solo tacked on at the end. It’s a heavenly number, funny and bitter.

Robert Christgau highlights another song in his review, which gives the debut a grade of B:

 Despite initial misgivings, I've found this thoughtful and sexy. The decisive touch is how Mark Knopfler counterpoints his own vocals on guitar--only a musician with a real structural knack could sound like two people that way. But there's a streak of philistine ideology here that speaks for too many white RnB players these days--most of them can't be bothered articulating it, that's all. In "In the Gallery," an honest sculptor has his bareback rider, coal miner, and skating ballerina rejected by the "trendy boys," "phonies," and "fakes" who (literally) conspire together and "decide who gets the breaks." Those who find this rather simplistic should now ask themselves whether Knopfler's beloved Sultans of Swing--not to mention Dire Straits--have more in common with that sculptor than he suspects.


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