Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (1985): Review

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Produced by Mark Knopfler & Neil Dorfsman
Label – Vertigo/Warner Bros

Logic and wisdom should suggest that Dire Straits fifth studio album is far and away their greatest collection, an amalgam of lavish tunes and incredible instrumental breadth. After all, “Brothers In Arms” would top the charts in 24 countries, sell in excess of 30 million copies and, as one of the first commercially viable digital recordings, won a best engineered Grammy award. It was also enhanced by the increasing exposure of video promos on the cable networks, and the singles, “Money For Nothing” and “Walk Of Life” would be staples on MTV for years. In terms of units shifted it has few rivals, and yet for all the accolades, the record is both surprising and significant in its mediocrity. Safe, strung out and bloated with 80s styles that many have come to consider as both excessive and tasteless. Whilst Pick Withers jazz influenced rhythms are starkly absent, the exercise feels more like a Mark Knopfler/session musician jaunt than a cohesive band effort. Newly recruited synth player Guy Fletcher adds gaudy motifs, as pianist Alan Clark (who added some fine embellishments to “Love Over Gold”), is relegated to bit part player. Recorded at a leisurely pace on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, the record starts brightly, only to degenerate into a languid wade through the volcanic sludge that envelops the landscape. There are of course, classic moments, but they are fleeting, bookending the record.

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Opener, “So Far Away” is a fine, and largely traditional mid paced pop rocker that could have fitted neatly on to any of their previous recordings. It is indeed, the only point that one is reminded of the bebop Zimmerman that enchanted us all on “Sultans Of Swing”. The ZZ Top riffing of “Money For Nothing” has outstanding pop merits, but at over eight minutes (seven on vinyl), severely outstays its welcome. The simply horribly dated dad rock nirvana of “Walk Of Life” is the bastard offspring of the equally nefarious “Twisting By The Pool” from a few years earlier. “Your Latest Trick” takes a fine line between gentle cocktail ballad and insipid elevator music, and thanks to Michael Brecker’s professional input, falls on the former. “Why Worry” starts a four song snoozefest of contemplative ramblings, half hearted stabs at world music (“Ride Across The River”), brooding studies of war criminality and guilt (“The Man’s Too Strong”), and the even gloomier self absorbed “One World”. The title track and closer is equally restrained, however the story of the fallen soldier sobers the listener into a sorrowful resignation and appreciation for all those that have lost their lives to enable our freedom.

Overall though, “Brothers In Arms” is a well tailored, competent and ultimately dull, production line record that’s partly handicapped by mid 80s recording techniques, and equally affected by some really inconsistent source material.

6/10

Track Rating
1 – So Far Away (7)
2 – Money For Nothing (7)
3 – Walk Of Life (4)
4 – Your Latest Trick (7)
5 – Why Worry (6)
6 – Ride Across The River (6)
7 – The Man’s Too Strong (6)
8 – One World (6)
9 – Brothers In Arms (7)

Dire Straits – Dire Straits (1978): Review 8/10

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10 responses to “Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (1985): Review

  1. My legal people have advised me not to express my honest opinion of this gramophone recording via written media

  2. I was underwhelmed with this one too – I remember thinking that you wouldn’t realize how good Knopfler is on guitar if this is the only album you’d heard, it seems like his talents were somewhat squandered here.
    I look forward to the self-titled one, I gather (from your review and others) it’s much stronger

    • Couldn’t agree more Geoff. Knopfler is an outstanding guitarist and a top notch songwriter. I think he and the band over-exposed themselves to the potential of the technology and forgot the songs. Surprisingly, my two favourite Dire Straits records (“Makin’ Movies” and “Love Over Gold”) are not included in the book. Mind you, neither album had huge hit singles, so I can understand the pop juggernaut that is “Brothers In Arms” getting precedence.

  3. I have a soft spot for this one, so may like it more than I should. Well, I know I do. It’s still the only Dire Straits album I own, so it’s maybe never pushed me to listen to more (though I will).

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