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Though you can discern Knopfler's influences (Dylan, JJ Cale, Chet Atkins-style picking) it's all blended into a distinctive flavour that is hard to fit into normal pop-rock categories. It is also distinctively English, as the detailed storytelling lyrics make clear. Knopfler's singing is Dylanesque without really sounding like Dylan, and his guitar playing is bluesy, elegant and chunkily percussive without really sounding like anyone (unless it's a more bluesy Richard Thompson). Because of the cleaness of the production and Knopfler's guitar tone, you get a palpable sense of his fingers attacking the guitar strings (something many rock guitarists rely on distortion to hide).
Though the songwriting is on one level conventional enough, the various elements of the band's sound combine forcefully to grab the attention. Dire Straits (in this incarnation) are tight, and rhythmically limber, while Knopfler's distinctive vocals and literate writing draw the listener in relentlessly. And unlike many guitar heroes, Knopfler's solos are always there to support the song rather than to be flashy. When the vocals stop, the guitar really does seem to take over the singing and the expressive foce of the song.
Sultans of Swing is of course known to almost everyone. But Down to the Waterline, Six Blade Knife and South Bound Again, respectively urgent, menacing and wirily funky, are also excellent. Anyone who finds Dire Straits' later work bland or overproduced should check out this album. It's as satisfying and sweet as an exquisitely rendered small-scale novel about ordinary people's lives.
I would recommend this album to every music fan. From the opening fast-paced "Down To The Waterline" to the classic "Sultans of Swing" to the beautiful "Wild West End," this truly is a class album. Just sit back and enjoy and appreciate the brilliance of the original Dire Straits before they became overwhelmed by the commercialism and temptation of fame. In my opinion this is one of the greatest albums in rock history, I hope after listening to this album you will share the same opinion.
You will hear J.J. Cale here as well as any other number of Blues influences, but song-writing on tracks like 'six-blade knife', 'Sultans of Swing', 'In the Gallery' and 'Lions' are unmistakeably Knopfler. Through his distinctive growl and laid back guitar riffs Mark Knopfler tells the story of his journey from Newcastle childhood, to the superficiality of the London arts scene, so the narrative honesty is there if you want to hear it.
Have it loud in your car to pump you up, have it quiet in your bedroom to chill you out. Either way, you have to have it.
Dire Straits formed amidst the punk rock boom that was rejecting the overblown musical styles of the mid seventies. They were rejected by many record companies because they were not punk but that missed the point of their music. They were re-injecting the timeless Blues essentials that had been discarded by the bands against which punk was rebelling. The opening track "Down To The Waterline" sets the tone for the CD and, while subsequent tracks raise and lower the tempo, the style is coherent all the way through.
When you listen to this CD it is almost a shock that it is a band's debut release. It is so well put together that you might imagine that it is the magnum opus of a band who have been recording together for a decade. The CD has the immediate appeal of clear memorable songs but with enough depth to reward repeated listening.
Mark Knopfler comes over as a man who has his guitar style all worked out ready for the band's debut. Arguments about who is the world's finest guitarist are unresolvable but without doubt, he is a candidate for the elite group.
If you have not heard this album before, listen to "Sultans of Swing" and rest assured that the other songs here will not disappoint you. This CD deserves a place alongside Lou Reed's "Transformer" and R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People" in any collection of mainstream rock music.