Review Summary: The definition of a tasteful guitarist - and not to mention a distinctive vocalist and skilled lyricist - Mark Knopfler's talents are greatly showcased on one of the better debut albums in blues rock.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
The most accurate description of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing – as the main musical force behind Dire Straits – would have to be the term ‘tasteful’. Rarely has a guitarist of such skill and talent been willing to take a back seat and become one with his band as Knopfler has, and I believe this debut album to be a severely overlooked showcase of such rock expertise. (Of course, to pull off such a masterful album, an overall solid band must be behind Knopfler. In particular, the sibling guitar duo of Knopfler and his brother David on rhythm guitars, crafts a chemistry or fluidity in the music rarely seen outside of a family based guitar section – think, the Young brothers).
At heart, Dire Straights are a pub-rock band, thriving on a low-key, almost sedate atmosphere (on this record in particular). Contributing to such an ambience is the vocal work of Mark Knopfler, in terms of voice and lyrics; an almost spoken-word approach to singing, coupled with a distinctive set of imagery based song lyrics (Bob Dylan anyone?), join the blues-rock rhythm of the band to complete a quite distinctive sound.
The songs themselves? Well, it would be ignorant to suggest each of these 9 cuts are classics; they aren’t. While each tune contains the unique guitar work of Mark Knopfler, and the general competence of the remainder of the band, some songs do lack a creative song writing core. Tunes such as ‘Setting Me Up’, which are by no means bad at all, just lack the spark of the more impressive tracks; they certainly contribute to the band’s emphasis on an album-rock approach, but are in the same breath uninspired. (To be fair, on double checking, the only track which undeniably fits this category is ‘Setting Me Up’: one ordinary tune from nine is no lousy song writing effort). The redeemers on this album are numerous; classic cuts ‘Sultans of Swing’ and ‘Down to the Waterline’ lead the band’s pub-rock assault on the senses, while the country-tinged ‘Wild West End’ and the ever enjoyable ‘Southbound Again’ ensure this album contains more than enough enjoyable songs for a purchase of it to be made.
Having owned this album for a few years now – although my focal use for it is to get my frequent ‘Sultans of Swing’ and ‘Down to the Waterline’ fix – it has definitely secured its own special place in my album armoury, and Knopfler’s own place in my top guitarists list – and quite close to the top of that list, indeed.