Review Summary: Neil Young infused with Loreena McKennitt… which is challenging?
Mark Knopfler's eighth studio album Privateering
is a solid, even if lukewarm, effort from the experienced musician. Maybe it's the fact that Knopfler's strayed from the instantly gratifying sound, equally electric and distinct, that uplifted Dire Straits, but Knopfler's solo releases never attain the satisfaction Love Over Gold
or, even significantly weaker, Communique
afford. In Privateering
, Knopfler relies on a faulty idea that had it been amended might've helped the album find focus, but alternatively makes the album a hackneyed slipshod of a concept that often pushes it to boring and banal zones. The bulk of the problem resides in the dead-on manner in which Privateering
consummates itself. The album is
a privateer sailing a vast ocean for a preposterously drawn-out period and, although instances of fun, beauty, and splendor exist, deadening tedium overwhelms any exciting and thoughtful moments.
's good - on paper. Knopfler's ability to interpret a guitar in a manner that's direct and authentic cannot be overstated. In Privateering
, Knopfler's playing and
singing guitar, creating melodies that complement, yet maintain autonomy. Knopfler's masterful finger-picking is especially showcased in acoustic tunes such as title track, “Privateering,” but lamentably it's nothing new and just reinforces everything that's adored about Dire Straits - no infectious guitar riffs a la “Down to the Waterline” and “Money for Nothing.” Instead, Knopfler's substituted vivacious pub-rock for subdued Celtic-influenced folk, blues, and country. In addition, the mellow yet casual instrumental and vocal approach he espouses is ill-suited to most of his vocals, which find themselves most trenchant when either strong and weighty (“Sultans of Swing”) or restrained, but compelling amidst the restraint (“Private Investigations”).
Nonetheless, Knopfler delivers a few excellent folksy tunes as should be expected on a ninety-minute two disc record. Clear highlight, “Dream of the Drowned Submariner,” could belong on Love Over Gold
if not for the apparent folk component. It has clean interspersed electric guitar, reminiscent of Dire Straits, and emotional vocal-work that's unmatched anywhere on the album. Opening track, “Redbud Tree,” too features classic Knopfler guitar and “Haul Away” is his best effort at Celtic-based melody and instrumentation and the song's indeed rather beautiful. On the other hand, “Kingdom of Gold” jumped straight out of The Desolation of Smaug
which is a shame because folk is where Knopfler shines on Privateering
. The bluesy tunes, which make up half of the record, seem painfully cliched. “Got to Have Something” has mandatory harmonica and piano, and standard blues rhythmical structures yet, still, Knopfler is imitating rather than feeling, which makes sense considering blues was never his element.
Basically, Knopfler tried to fit too many styles of music on the record, which makes it overly long, consequently detracting from the truly great music on this album. If he cut the filler - mainly the blues tracks, he'd have a great album but instead he's got this mixed bag that is pleasant enough but can be boring and could be way better.
If you're in the mood to hear great Knopfler: Dream of the Drowned Submariner; Yon Two Crows; Go, Love; and maybe Redbud Tree and Haul Away