April 24, 2014 3 Comments
In 1978 when punk was in its heyday, disco fever was in full flight, and new wave synthesiser-based bands were gearing up, Dire Straits released their debut album. On it was the song Sultans of Swing, which became a top 10 hit, and has since become a classic. Mark Knopfler and his band (John Illsley on bass, David Knopfler on rhythm guitar, and Pick Withers on drums) came out with gritty, bluesy, rock sound that reflected the darker mood of the country at the time.
While the shows Mark Knopfler’s ability on the guitar, I can’t help but think that some of what is on here is improvised during the recording. It’s probably not, but having that feel to it adds an extra dimension to the sound, with all of those ‘spare’ notes tacked on to the songs. Illsley and Withers provide a tight, fantastic rhythm section, and rhythm is what this album is about. This might not be their best-selling album, but it sure is, in my view, the best.
The album is a collection of well-written songs that begins with Down to the Waterline a song about teenage liaisons in Newcastle, followed by the laid back Water of Love. The third song on the album is Setting Me Up which is one of the best. It is three minutes of upbeat, foot-tapping rhythm and show cases both guitar players. David Knopfler really shows how good a rhythm guitarist he is on this album. Six-Blade Knife is a dark song that slows the pace down with folky/bluesy feel, before Southbound Again (another of my favourites) raises the pace with all the intensity of a clackety-clack train ride.
Sultans of Swing starts side two (at least it did in the days of LP records!) and I don’t think that there is much I can say about this song that hasn’t already been said. It’s a classic song in anybody’s language. Then comes In the Gallery, a story about a sculpture overlooked in life and feted after death. Knopfler chews out the words with a sort of suppressed rage at the injustice of it all.
The final two songs, Wild West End and Lions take me back to the London that I used to visit in the 80s. It was probably not that much different to the 70s (all those who disagree, feel free to – I don’t mind). There is a texture to these songs that reflects a young man in a big city, watching the world, watching the girls, living a frugal life with time to watch and see the world as it is, pick up the little details. These two songs take me down memory lane.
And that’s it. A great debut album from a band with a lasting sound. Enjoy it at the link below.