Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 10th 2019
An album that still rings true today
After my recent look at the Dire Straits classic album Love Over Gold, I received a DM on Twitter from someone who has been reading these columns since I started them. She said that while Love Over Gold was a good record, she preferred the band's 1985 album that has come to define them, for better or worse, in the minds of many.
I am, of course, talking about Brothers In Arms.
Now, what her message and our brief online "conversation" told me was that I hadn't actually listened to this CD in a very long time, so out it came, on it went, and I'd forgotten just how good this album is. I listened to it maybe three times before it struck me that I should write about it. But I had already promised some-one else I'd do my promised Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell review, and that was certainly a fun listen. But straight away, I went back to this album and well, here I am.
In the mid-80s, this album and songs from it were everywhere. It was one of those albums that just sold and sold and kept on selling. I was in high school at the time, and the lyrics to two of the songs on this album were used in our Religious Education class when talking about morality without religion (it was used positively; the priest taking the class loved the songs). It was one of those albums that crossed generations and societal structures. I don't have any personal anecdotes to go along with the songs here (I know shock!), but the night the first one of my friends bought it, about ten of us went to his house and just listened to it, beginning to end.
It was that sort of an album.
I should also point out that this was the studio follow-up to Love Over Gold (ExtendedancEPlay being an EP, not a full album, and Alchemy being live), so looking at the differences between the two is stunning when one followed the other.
Now, this was one of the first things I bought on CD, so we are going away from sides for this one. I believe it was the first album where the CD outsold the record (vinyl), but that could be an old memory rearing its misinformed head. In Australia, it spent a huge amount of time on top of the album charts, and I also believe it did well everywhere else in the world. It is a monolith of an album, but I seem to remember at the time the critics not liking it. Well, sometimes the audience knows what it likes and the critics be damned, I guess.
The album opens with 'So Far Away', a gentle love song about being separated from loved ones. It has one of the typical Knopfler guitar solos in it, and moves along at a nice, sedate pace. It was also the first single released from the album, which was possibly an odd choice, but I believe it did well enough and people certainly bought the thing, so it didn't turn the audience off.
Next up is one of the most popular Dire Straits' songs in their canon 'Money For Nothing', featuring Sting (who also received a co-writing credit). This song was played to death on music video stations world-wide, which is ironic, because it bemoans music videos and music video stations, from the point of view of a guy working in a warehouse somewhere. It is the "average person" looking at the MTV singers and not understanding what it is he's seeing. The song is vicious in many parts, and Sting's background, "I want my MTV " just underlines how much this new thing overpowered the poor worker. I should point out that this was in the days when MTV was a televised radio station and they actually played pretty much only music. So many younger readers would probably not realise the 'M' in MTV stands for 'Music'. And now I'm going off on an old guy rant. Anyway, this is a really good song, with a classic video, and a classic 'Weird Al' Yankovic parody.
Track three is a rather keyboard heavy celebration of being a busker 'Walk Of Life'. The original video showed this, but the video made for US audiences was filled with sporting bloopers, and that was the one we got more often in Australia as well. It is a rocking song, filled with joy and happiness. This was the song most of my friends at the time preferred from the album, and a few wrote lame parody versions of it themselves. I still associate it with that 1985/1986 time frame, a time when my own life was free and filled with hope. Such a cool song.
'Your Latest Trick' was the final single released from the album, a nice saxophone based piece that sounds rather melancholy. Reading the lyrics, I always thought it was about prostitution (a few Dire Straits songs seem to be about that element of society) and comparing the life of being in a band to that of a prostitute, but I could be reading too much into it. Doesn't matter, I like this song, and the live version on the On The Night album is pretty cool as well.
Next up is the first of the songs that priests used back in high school 'Why Worry'. It is a song of hope, about how love can conquer negativity. When I first heard it, I thought: Yeah, another ballad. But after going through it in class, I came to appreciate it more and it is one of those songs where the lyrics make it wonderful.
Then we have 'Ride Across The River', which examines the futility of war. It seems to me as if it is coming from the points of view of two people in opposition, but neither knows what they're really fighting for. It has the sound and feel of something almost tropical, with flute-like sounds and staccato drumming and background noise like insects in a forest. Quite a bleak track.
'The Man's Too Strong' follows, a track about a man caught in war. This man could be anyone a general, a soldier, a man condemned to die. I seem to remember at the time there was a rumour it was about Rudolph Hess. It is one of those tracks that is open to interpretation, each as valid as the last. It has a country groove, punctuated by bursts of what sounds like quite an angry guitar. This is a track that grew on me the more I listened to it, but I still find it does not do much for me.
'One World' is next, and this is a track that also grew on me over time. It's a sort of a blues track, about the song-writer having nothing and yet still continuing on. A sort of 'keep on going no matter what' style of song. Not too bad.
And we finish with my favourite track on the album, and the other one the priest used in class the title track 'Brothers In Arms'. It is the story or tale of a soldier dying on a battlefield surrounded by his comrades. It is a beautiful song, with such lovely guitar lines and understated synthesiser backing. It is also depressing, and yet with a hint of hope in the midst of it all. The song makes me break out in goosebumps no matter how often I hear it: "Let me bid you farewell/ Every man has to die " The whole thing still feels poignant today, more than 30 years later. And that closing guitar solo. Just a glorious track.
And that's Brothers In Arms. Not a perfect album, but still a really good one, and one worthy of the moniker "classic". There are tracks here that soundtracked my teenaged years so incredibly, and its huge sales mean that most likely everyone reading this at least knows someone who owns or owned a copy. Unlike Love Over Gold, these are songs of a "single" length, and maybe that's why many find it easier to listen to. I don't know. Still a really good album. Recommended, for sure.
And, as always, comments, questions, suggestions, etc., are encouraged.
I absolutely love Dire Straits since their first album.
I saw them live in Oz in 85 or 86 and to this day I still recon they were the best live band Iβve seen. I have seen many bands live over the years but they have a special place in my heart.