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4.8 out of 5 stars110
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 25 February 2003
This is an album of evocatively written narrative songs with superb and original guitar playing and, unusually, every song a winner.
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.
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on 14 July 2004
There are not many superlatives to heap upon this album that have not already been used. It is rare in modern music to find anything near as witty, evocative, emotional yet enjoyable as this debut album from Dire Straits. Essentially this is the "real" Dire Straits, not the electronically influenced outfit of "Brothers In Arms" fame, but a group with a classic bar band sound, who combine rock, jazz, blues, country and folk for the ultimate debut album. This shows the roots of Dire Straits, combining Mark Knopfler's folk-tinged vocals and bluesy guitar playing, a rock-solid rhythm section courtesy of Knopfler's brother David and bass player John Illsey and the jazz drumming of Pick Withers.
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.
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on 3 June 2002
If you do not currently own a Dire Straits record, then I envy you for the journey of discovery you would embark upon if you bought this album. I have been listening to Straits for over 10 years (I'm only 22) and would give anything to hear this album for the first time again.
If (like many people) you are scared off by the over-playing of Money for Nothing, the "Old Men of Rock" tag Dire Straits have got, or the simply awful 'Twisting by the pool', then 'Down to the Waterline' will immediately change your mind, because from this first song on Dire Straits have produced one of the most irreproachably competent and satisfying debuts I have ever heard: David Knopfler - Rhythm guitar perfection, Mark Knopfler - Lead guitar, song-writing and vocals that will leave you in a frenzied search for more of the same.
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.
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2000
The Dire Straits story really is one that defies belief. Three educated, but essentially broke blokes get a drummer in, play really unfashionable music and within eight months of forming get a deal with Phongram and go on to conquer the world. So there IS justice in the world!
This album, recorded in early 1978, contains no clues as to where the Straits ended up. The first track, "Down to the Waterline" opens up slowly before launching into an upbeat song, whose lyrical imagery flows right through the album, bound together by Knopfler's taut guitar lines.
Over the course of nine songs Knopfler's journey from Newcastle to London is documented. The pining "Water of Love" displays the national steel that would adorn the cover of THAT album and has some good layered vocals. "Setting Me Up" is a great song about being used with some of the best guitar playing on the album. "Six Blade Knife" shows a moodier side to the band, while "Southbound Again" is a boogie track that takes the story into London. The key song on the album is "Sultans of Swing", which sounds as great now as it did when I first heard it when I was five or six. Again, the imagery is so strong you could almost be in that Greenwich pub hearing an jazz band made up of postmen and teachers going for it. "In The Gallery" has got a bit a funky edge to it and again has some great guitar playing by Mark and his brother David. The steel guitar comes back out for "Wild West End". Again, you feel like you're standing outside Angellucci's coffee house in Soho when you listen to this song. "Lions" rounds off a great album with the merest hint at the rock-orientated direction the band would take, dragging millions of record buyers with them.
Great songs, great playing (Pick Withers is a very underrated drummer!) and a real "triumph over adversity" kind of story.
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on 23 October 2002
Electric guitar music touches a membrane deep inside me that seems to exist for the purpose of resonating this sound alone (the only thing that touches it even more strongly is if the guitar chords are paired with a truly unusual voice). I'm sure every lover of great guitar music knows what I am talking about. Ever since I discovered that membrane years ago, I have been on the look for that special sound; be it straightforward rock, blues or folk music. However, growing up in a time when the radio airwaves were flooded with either disco or punk, depending on what station you were listening to, it wasn't always easy to find. Then one day I heard "Sultans of Swing," and my membrane resonated - all the more because this was not only a great guitarist playing but also one of the most unique voices I'd heard in a while, and the musical style seemed to defy classification, too ... it was somewhere between rock and blues, but I wasn't sure what exactly to call it.
However you define their sound, though, listening to Dire Straits' self-titled debut album 25 years after its publication, it is still amazing how rounded and accomplished their style was even then. The band's composition would change over the course of the years and Mark Knopfler would take them to the heights of the ambitiously-conceived "Love Over Gold" and the bestselling diversity of "Brothers in Arms," but the basic elements of the typical Dire Straits sound, recognizable throughout all those later developments, were there right from the start: Knopfler's rough, dark vocals, his signature style as a guitar player, the unique Fender sound soon associated with his name, and even little details like his tendency to introduce songs by a couple of solo guitar slides - seemingly just tossed out casually but immediately catching the listener's attention, even before the band joins him for the "real" start of the song; a feature present from the very first track on this first album, "Down to the Waterline." Their debut release was Dire Straits' most sparsely-produced record; musically it did not yet involve the more elaborate elements of Knopfler's later compositions, and it was the only release featuring only the band's original four musicians. This, in addition to the album's equally firm anchoring in rock, blues and folk music (with a little bit of country here and there) and the particularly raw tinges of Mark Knopfler's voice gave it a "down to earth" feeling not always present in the band's later recordings. Besides, Knopfler had not yet discovered the limelight of a really large concert arena (the band's name was no coincidence, after all) - he obviously always knew he was good, but many of his early songs almost became different pieces of music over the course of their live performances throughout the years; most notably, "Sultans of Swing:" just listen to the version recorded on the "Alchemy" live album five years later. Perfection? Absolutely and undeniably ... but also incredible showmanship, ignited by the cheers of the audience and by his pure joy in playing.
"Dire Straits" is much more than just a well-done debut album; it is as essential a component of the band's and Mark Knopfler's body of work as any of its successors. I disagree with those who are saying that this is the "real" Dire Straits; to me, this band (and Knopfler in particular) still defies categorization, and every one of their records first and foremost expresses the state of their musical development at the time it was recorded. But regardless where you place this particular album in their catalog, one thing is for sure: It is one of those few timeless and definite classics that will forever have a validity of their own and whose importance, if anything, only grows with the passage of the years.
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`Dire Straits' is the debut album from this now legendary group. It has the classic and still potent `Sultans of Swing' with that solo that all learner guitarists try to master at some point. Along with tracks like `Six Blade Knife', `Wild West End' and `Lions' this makes for one very fresh and clean sounding album. There's no heavy distortion on the guitars like `Money For Nothing' or dark brooding music like `Brothers in Arms' but there is wonderful song writing and great musicianship. The remastered version I have has new liner notes giving some history to this album and overall this is a brilliant album that shows the potential in this group that they then went on to live up to. Well worth adding to your collection.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 13 November 2000
Dire Straits has to count as one of the most impressive debut albums of all time. It was clear that Dire Straits, in particular Mark Knopfler, had that special spark from day one. Strangely enough, Radio 1 didn't appear to notice it, completely ignoring the band's first single, Sultans of Swing, the outstanding watermark of this great album of songs. Dire Straits have to be admired: at the time of punk, they made no secret of their musicianship, melodic instincts and their desire to combine their own style with blues, country and Dylan etc together to make timeless, distinctive music of their own. Music that would be relevant for the rest of time. They bettered this album with every one of its successors, but their debut remains the most remarkable album they recorded. Very little financial backing, the rage and popularity of punk, considerable (and understandable) doubts about the band's commercial viability by the record company and initial indifference to the music in Britain failed to stop it from becoming a commercial success.
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on 26 February 2003
This is an album of evocatively written narrative songs with superb and original guitar playing and, unusually, every song a winner.
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.
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on 12 August 2005
Hadn't listened to Dire Straits in years. But it was a sudden rush of nostalgia that pushed me to purchase this. I used to have this album on tape, and though at first it didn't appeal to me as instantly as 'Brothers in Arms' did, it is now by far my favourite Dire Straits album.
It's not just because this is their only album without the 80's synthesizer sound, it is also because I think it has their best compositions and lyrics. If originally I fell in love with 'Sultans of Swing' for it's immediatly appealing melody, this time around I re-fell in love with it for its' touching lyrics.
I think Dire Straits were the 'Sultans of Swing' and that Knofler was Harry from 'In the Gallery'. Musically and lyricly they fought the phoniness of fashion in Arts and Entertainment, and they did it with such dignity and honesty that they deserved their success and eventual place "in the gallery".
Blues, Funk, Reggae, Rock and Pop mixed together and delivered in a simple, direct way, which is true to the spirit of all these genres roots. But at the same time, Dire Straits also succeeded here in taking them all a lot further.
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Dire Straits' eponymous first album was recorded at Basing Street studios in West London in February 1978, for a reported £12,500. Though now recognised as a strong contender for the best debut album ever from any rock/blues band, the dominance of the popular music scene at the time by the nihilistic and ultimately disposable `New Wave' meant that this recording was initially drowned out by the surrounding noise, so its reputation grew only slowly.

The original band was a classic R&B quartet: band leader-singer-songwriter-guitarist Mark Knopfler, his brother David on rhythm guitar, Mark's flatmate John Ilsley on bass and drummer Pick Withers.

The music is tight with a sound stripped down and clean; the songs distinctive and in style redolent at times of JJ Cale, the arrangements straightforward and unpretentious. Mark's Fender Strat and growling (somewhat Dylanesque) vocal dominate the action, over a capable rhythm section with a deep love of their rock/blues roots. They sound like a good pub-band on a Saturday night, with the mojo in overdrive. The whole album is a joy from beginning to end.

Lyrically the songs are a cut above your average R&B fare, with Mark's Tyneside roots evident in the themes and a laconic humour spicing the slice-of-life stories told from the perspective of an observer, very much in the style of Bob Dylan. `Sultans of Swing' later became the album's mega-hit and perennial DS stage-favourite, but originally was just one track among the rest with no plans to release as a single for radio-play.

DS went on to international success in the 1980s with five follow-up albums and a few personnel changes, the arrangements becoming more lengthy and inventive whilst remaining true to their original sound. But even their mega-selling 1985 album `Brothers in Arms' never really topped this, the sensational 1978 debut; it has an honesty and simplicity close to perfection.
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