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Dire Straits: On Every Street

John Kelman By

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Dire Straits—On Every StreetDire Straits
On Every Street
universal Music Japan
2013 (1991)

After a lengthy hiatus, Rediscovery returns with a Japanese SHM CD edition of Dire Straits' final studio record, 1991's On Every Street. While many folks who bought it on the strength of the mega-selling Brothers in Arms (Warner Bros., 1985)—which contained so many hits so (still) consistently overplayed that, for some, it's taken literally decades to begin loving it again—were disappointed at On Every Street's relative lack of radio-friendly hits and (worse!!) more country-inflected undertones, for me it completely restored my faith in Knopfler as a songwriter and bandleader. The one thing that had never lost its potency was his guitar work, and his playing on Brothers in Arms was as good as ever.

Emerging in the late '70s, Knopfler made it immediately clear with the group's debut, Dire Straits (Warner Bros., 1978), that despite the still popular low-fi punk and, to a lesser extent, new wave, it was once again okay to be a guitar hero—albeit, in Knopfler's case, one with none of the usual posturing or histrionics. If anything, the amiable, low-key Knopfler was the antithesis of the guitar hero...except damn, that guy could play. And over the course of three more studio records and one live double album, Dire Straits, with Knopfler at the helm as lead guitarist, lead singer and songwriter, went from strength to strength and success to success, evolving into a group at which its first two albums could only hint.

Not that Brothers in Arms was bad; far from it. The simple, singsong nature of "So Far Away" was so eminently catchy and subversively deep that, when he revisited it on his live duo record with Emmylou Harris, Real Live Roadrunning (Warner Bros/Nonesuch, 2006), all the years of it being overplayed were instantly forgiven, as Knopfler's relaxed vocal delivery meshed perfectly (and, perhaps, surprisingly) with Harris' sweet harmonies. A refreshing reminder of just how strong that song really was, Brothers in Arms' title track has fared the test of time even better; capable of raising those little hairs on the back of the neck every time Knopfler solos on his thick-toned, heavily overdriven Les Paul—as ever, all the better for the sound of flesh rather than pick on string—in between verses of despair...optimism...and hope. The almost naive innocence of "Why Worry" (also covered with Harris) remains compelling too, while the atypically synth-driven, reggae-tinged "Ride Across the River" and more folkloric "The Man's Too Strong" demonstrate that, despite an overall simplification of his approach to prose and storytelling on Brothers in Arms, Knopfler still had the ability to captivate—and on many levels.

But you've got to give Knopfler huge credit for having the cojones to follow up the biggest record of his career—charting at #1 worldwide, it is the eighth-bestselling album in UK history, went nine times platinum in the USA and, at last count, has sold over thirty million copies worldwide—with a collection of a dozen new songs that, while as catchy as ever (for some, like yours truly, perhaps even more so), eschewed obvious radio friendly hits and, while selling well on the back of Brothers in Arms, performed far less well. Mind you, even single platinum and reaching #1 on many countries' charts (though only #12 on the US Billboard chart, with only two of its six singles charting moderately well in more than a few countries) would be considered a major accomplishment for any group, but after Brothers in Arms it as akin to Michael Jackson's Bad (Epic, 1987)— which, after the massive success of the 65 million-selling Off the Wall (Epic, 1979) and 45 million of Thriller (Epic, 1982), was considered a commercial flop at a measly 30 million. Go figure.

Still, Mark Knopfler was never Michael Jackson and, while it is certainly presumptive to suggest so, based on the relatively low-key solo career that has followed—with a creative consistency that puts him in league with another outstanding guitarist and singer/songwriter, Richard Thompson—it certainly seems that, following Brothers in Arms' massive success and a financial gain that would set any prudent musician up for life, Knopfler viewed becoming a megastar as nothing less than giving him the freedom to do whatever he wanted.


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