Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dire Straits

  • Dire Straits [Warner Bros., 1978] B
  • Communique [Warner Bros., 1979] B-
  • Making Movies [Warner Bros., 1980] C+
  • Love Over Gold [Warner Bros., 1982] C+
  • Brothers in Arms [Warner Bros., 1985] B-
  • Money for Nothing [Warner Bros., 1988] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dire Straits [Warner Bros., 1978]
Despite initial misgivings, I've found this thoughtful and sexy. The decisive touch is how Mark Knopfler counterpoints his own vocals on guitar--only a musician with a real structural knack could sound like two people that way. But there's a streak of philistine ideology here that speaks for too many white r&b players these days--most of them can't be bothered articulating it, that's all. In "In the Gallery," an honest sculptor has his bareback rider, coal miner, and skating ballerina rejected by the "trendy boys," "phonies," and "fakes" who (literally) conspire together and "decide who gets the breaks." Those who find this rather simplistic should now ask themselves whether Knopfler's beloved Sultans of Swing--not to mention Dire Straits--have more in common with that sculptor than he suspects. B

Communique [Warner Bros., 1979]
Boy, people are getting bored with these guys fast--if they don't watch out they're gonna last about as long as Looking Glass or the Lemon Pipers. Just another case of "substance" as novelty, I guess--doesn't sound bad, but they'd better up those beats-per-minute. B-

Making Movies [Warner Bros., 1980]
If any up-and-coming rock-and-roller aspires to auteur status it's Mark Knopfler, and among those with a taste for his rather corny plots (Romeo and Juliet, fancy that) this establishes his claim. Me, I note that this third album closes with his second gay-baiting song, and that I wasn't surprised . Better he should work on somebody else's stories--his guitar has emerged from Eric Clapton's shadow into a jazzy rock that muscles right past Larry Carlton and ilk. Steely Straits, anyone? Or would that be Dire Dan? C+

Love Over Gold [Warner Bros., 1982]
I admit that Mark Knopfler is a classy enough guitarist and producer to entice me into his nostalgic obsessions: at its best "Telegraph Road" sounds like supernal Mark-Almond, and the cheesy organ on "Industrial Disease" betrays a sense of humor. But the portentous arrangements on the other three cuts (right, that makes five, mean length 8:24) suggest nothing so much as ELP with blues roots. And Knopfler's sarcastic impression of a Harley Street M.D. on the very same "Industrial Disease" leaves no doubt that even his sense of humor is pompous. C+

Brothers in Arms [Warner Bros., 1985]
"Money for Nothing" is a catchy sumbitch, no getting around it, and the first side moves with simple generosity, not a virtue one associates with this studio guitarist's ego trip. But it's too late for the old bluesboy to suck us into his ruminations of the perfidy of woman and the futility of political struggle, and "Money for Nothing" is also a benchmark of pop hypocrisy. We know Mark Knopfler's working-class antihero is a thicky because he talks like Randy Newman and uses the same word for homosexual that old bluesboys use, a word Knopfler has somehow gotten on the radio with no static from the PMRC. I mean, why not "little nigger with the spitcurl" instead of "little faggot with the earring," Mark? And while we're at it, how the hell did you end up on MTV? By spelling its name right? B-

Money for Nothing [Warner Bros., 1988]
An active member of the Fraternal Order of Old Farts since birth, Mark Knopfler has always identified simply, spontaneously, and soddenly with anybody who's bitter because life has passed him by--no, not "him or her," that's just the kind of pussyfooting a man's man won't abide. He's most convincing when directing his empathy at musicians--cf. "Sultans of Swing," in which glam types reject trad tsk-tsk, and "The Walk of Life," in which our hero dances as best he can. Skillfully accompanied on guitar, his supposedly unfashionable ressentiment has made him a rich man. How could such a thing happen? B-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]