Review Summary: A satisfying compilation, this album delivers what fans of the hits and casual fans of the band will expect.
Is it so wrong that I don't consider myself a Dire Straits fan? I like their music—or at least some of it—and I can recognize the songwriting prowess and guitar virtuosity of Mark Knopfler, but I am not a true fan. Heck, I don't even consider myself a casual fan.
In my youth I would hear "Sultans of Swing" on the radio and was quite taken with it. Its rolling verses, unusual song structure (for pop music), gentle flecks of guitar between lyrics about appreciating old-time music ("It ain't what they call rock and roll"), wild guitar solo, and even wilder guitar outro all appealed to me, though it would be some time before I finally decided that this is one of my all-time favorite songs. I've since arranged my own version on ukulele, and playing it at friendly get-togethers—with a careful blend of Knopfler's fills/solos and my own inferior improvising—is always one of my proudest and most satisfying achievements.
I would see "Top 100" lists on VH1 and the occasional old video rotation, in which the exciting and innovative "Money for Nothing" with distorted electric guitar (supposedly made to resemble the sound of ZZ Top) often made an appearance. This and the other classic rock radio staples ("So Far Away" and "Walk of Life") were enjoyable enough to get me looking into the band that came up with such goodness. This search was to be met with disappointment. I was a snob then, taking a strong dislike to any classic rock that wasn't of the brash, loud, and arrogant variety; Led Zeppelin was my Number One. AC/DC was ace, Deep Purple was profound, and certain friends of mine were turning me onto the seperate worlds of punk and heavy metal. The Beatles? Too poppish. The Stones? Just okay. Dire Straits? Who the heck are they?
Years later, I find that my tastes have matured enough to induct them into my CD collection. Dire Straits
, their debut, didn't quite do it for me. Sure, it had my beloved "Sultans of Swing" and a sound-alike "Down to the Waterline", but the rest of that album is shockingly simple roots rock. Same with the much-praised Brothers in Arms
, which—radio staples included—didn't turn out to be the earth-shattering grand revelation I expected. Both of these albums came cheap, but still I felt ripped off.
Enter Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Staits
. Leading off with its namesake, this compilation provides instant gratification. "Lady Writer" has the same vibe and similar gimmicks, but it's just as enjoyable given that they never play it on the radio. "Romeo and Juliet" is a terrific change of pace, and the rest of the album plays out nicely. Many of the tracks are cut down from their original album lengths: at 4:10, the radio edit of "Money for Nothing" is almost half the length of the Brothers in Arms
version, and it's only the most extreme example. But for someone like me who can appreciate a 3:41 live version of "Love Over Gold" over the original 6:18 album version, this is exactly what you've been looking for.
I've seen true fans lament the exclusion of 14-minute epic "Telegraph Road". Frankly I find "Tunnel of Love" superior, being much more rollicking and concise and with a more frequent and rewarding chorus. Its inclusion here, in full, renders "Telegraph Road" superfluous. The latter was rightly left off. In contrast, this album could've done without the painfully slow "Private Investigations" and rock 'n' roll throwback "Twisting by the Pool", plus a couple others that I personally don't care for but realize were big enough hits that they had to make an appearance.
But that's just nitpicking; for what it is, this compilation is more than adequate. It gives you the songs you want plus the songs that made Dire Straits the band that they were, and it withholds the simple stuff, more complex arrangements, and deeper cuts that honest to goodness Dire Straits fans will surely seek out through their studio albums. That's something I'm grateful for. And that's why Dire Straits can now sit proudly on my shelf, secure in the knowledge that they will be played from time to time.