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Monday, 26 December 2011

Absolutely Dire

As a child of the 60's, my musical hey day was in the early 80's. I've always had eclectic tastes, but it was the power and to some extent the bravado of Heavy Metal that called the loudest (literally) to me, I was too well behaved to be a punk, and only discovered the joys of The Clash and The Jam much later. Motorhead, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Saxon, Scorpions were the staples, Black Sabbath, Rainbow were venerated high priests (oh yes, Judas Priest too).

Metalheads were sworn enemies of the New Romantics, I mean with a name like that, and those haircuts, it was a rivalry forged in the fires of hell. For that reason it was much (much) later before I could admit that Human League, OMD, Soft Cell, Duran Duran et al had some great songs too.

Amongst all this battle-of-the-charts nonsense (wasn't it great?) were certain artists that transcended genre, and none was greater in the early 80's than Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler had that skill that all truly great artists have, of melding supreme instrumental skill with peerless storytelling and making the whole thing seem effortless. I'm moved to write this as I listen to DS best of, 'Sultans of Swing' which my 17-year-old daughter requested for her Christmas (one of my greatest joys is that she has musical tastes every bit as eclectic as mine.) Knopfler's achievement is written clearly in the track list of that superb collection, but even more eloquently in the songs that there is no room for.

'Love Over Gold' was always my favourite Dire Straits record, DS songs were never short, but by 1982 Knopfler was unconstrained by the niceties of commercial songwriting. The shortest track was 5:49 (the poppy, radio friendly 'Industrial Disease'), and 'Telegraph Road' was a tour de force at a magnificent 14:21, but it is the album's book end 'It Never Rains' that was, for me, the most poignant and heartfelt on that record. Okay the riff is a bit repetitive and the song peters out through a solo that is not Knopfler's most inspiring, but the first 4 minutes are an emotional return to the fairground landscape of 'Tunnel of Love' - magnificent stuff, and he was born in Glasgow.

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