#418: Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits
This is going to sound very Millennial of me but I did not know that Dire Straits were a Brit band. Why do they sound so American in my ears?
In fact they were fairly successful in the UK before blowing up internationally with this, which had one ringing hit: “Money for Nothing,” which is nine minutes and could be longer. It’s a bitter conversation between two working class men about rock stars. So much happening on that song: Sting wants his MTV, they’re slinging microwave ovens and color TVs, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it F-slur, not to mention the ZZ-Top guitar. Which could be why they sound so American. You tell me. By the way, itsmusic video is INSANE — just watch it and keep in mind this was 1985. This was one of the first uses of CGI. And the funniest thing is, Dire Straits frontman Knopfler was “not really very fond of music videos and all that they’re doing,” according to Steve Barron, who made it at the behest of Warner Brothers and to the utter horror of the band.
Written exclusively Knopfler, every song is catchy, every guitar riff crispy and nice to listen to. See: the whole thing. But he also plays a pretty acoustic — see “Why Worry” and Who-like character study “The Man’s Too Strong.”) (Another fun fact about Knopfler: he scored the movie The Princess Bride.)
Believe it or not, US reviews for this record were more positive than UK ones. Ultimately, this was the first album ever to sell one million CD-ROMs. I really enjoyed it, though I did keep noticing how intentionally it dates itself. They used the most of-the-moment recording equipment, making this the first ever album recorded on a Sony 24-track tape machine. And this album has its own Absolutely Eighties™ moments, beyond all the appliances name-dropped on “Money.” See the drama-filled “So Far Away” and all that plus a little sax on “Your Latest Trick.” Also shoutout to the keyboards on “Walk of Life,” which I found five a cappella performances of.
But if the worst of the Eighties is a little cheesy, the best of it is how dead seriously it takes itself. There’s not a single love song here. Instead you get “One World” about the impossibility of world peace, and “Brothers in Arms,” a POV from a soldier dying on a battlefield in the Falklands War. This is as straight-faced as they come. You have to be a certain kind of band to write a funeral song.
Song I Could Lose: “Ride Across the River.” Only because this album is I think exactly seven minutes too long.