Mark Knopfler is a phenomenal guitarist. He’s probably one of the best to have ever made a career in rock. But I’ve never really liked the guitar playing of Mark Knopfler. There’s something too perfect, too precise, too robotic about his playing. To me, it never sounds like there’s a man behind it, a heart or soul. His close to monotone vocals don’t help either. I like to hear some cracks in rock music, some flubs and not quite perfect moments, that let me know there’s a human being behind it. But I really can’t deny how good he is and how big an impact he had on pop and rock. So, I dived into Knopfler more than I ever have before, via his Dire Straits record Borthers in Arms.
There’s a little more life to Money for Nothing, but at this stage, l’ve had it forced on me way too many times via commercial radio to have any perspective on whether or not it’s a good song, or if I even like it, hate it, or just tolerate it. Once again, it’s a killer guitar riff that deserves the long life it’s had, but it just never veers away from anything less than absolute exactitude, and because of that, never has any blood or guts at is core.
While it’s just as precise and perfect as the others, Walk of Life at least sounds like a band having fun when they play it. And that fun is infectious, making me still enjoy it after a lifetime of hearing it constantly. The opposite of that fun is the syrupy cheese of Your Latest Trick. From its elevator music sax, to its mopey tone, making it through this song really is an endurance test. But even that is riveting compared to the almost 16 minutes of sonic bullshit and masturbation that is Why Worry? and Ride Across the River.
As Brothers In Arms heads towards its end, it finally gets things right. Trading in the electric guitar and oceans of reverb, The Man’s Too Strong is built around an organic, almost rough acoustic guitar that immediately makes it feel more personal and genuine than anything else on this record. Sure, it’s almost as over produced as the rest of the album, but it at least sounds human.
After the 55 minutes that is Brothers in Arms, my opinion of Knopfler and Dire Straits going in is only more concrete. He’s an expert practitioner. But rock and roll, and art in general, aren’t about expert precision. They’re about having something to say, and saying it the best you can with you got. With Dire Straits, the delivery system is impeccable. There’s just no message to deliver.