Bad Album Club: Dire Strait’s Brothers In Arms

bad album club

My dad loves dadrock. On reflection, my dad is squarely in the demographic which dadrock seemed to be designed, almost by committee, to appeal to: the generation who had grown up with the Beatles and Stones but had now grown up. Music to tap the steering wheel to as you’re driving your kids around, if you’re being cynical, which is exactly how I remember Brothers in Arms – specifically, whilst holidaying around North Wales in the late 80s.

My dad was one of those baby boomers who helped Brothers in Arms become the first album to sell a million copies in CD format (going on to sell a truly staggering 13 million copies). Rather than repurchase the music he had bought as a teenager on vinyl, as many did, in the newfangled CD format, he listened to the music made a generation later which was heavily indebted to the music he grew up with but infinitely less compelling: Chris Rea, No Jacket Required by Phil Collins, ‘Baker Street’…

Brothers in Arms is hideous. Despite its popularity in its day I can’t imagine too many people wishing to defend it now and I sure as hell wouldn’t. Still, Brothers in Arms is responsible for my earliest memory of being really excited by music: hunched in the corner, headphones pressed to my ears, the wispy strains of Sting intoning “I want my MTV” emerging out of the fog, the rising anticipation, those drums, that riff… before Knopfler (ahem, “the new Dylan”) starts blathering on about ‘faggots’ and ‘chicks for free’ and it all goes downhill very quickly.

And yet, I’m pretty sure if I was to whack on ‘Money for Nothing’ I’d be pulling air bass like Alan Partridge before the first verse even kicked in.

Max Sep 15

Before I begin, I have to admit that, whilst I had previously never listened to “Brothers In Arms”, I do have a personal relationship to the album and, therefore, am not unbiased. You see, I once played in Steven J Kirk’s backing band and Steven J Kirk’s drummer once had a single produced by the bassist from Duran Duran and Warren Cuccurullo was in Duran Duran (penning “Ordinary World)” and previously Cuccurullo was in Frank Zappa’s band and Sting appears on Zappa’s 1988 Live album “Broadway The Hardway” and, naturally, Sting is on Brothers In Arms. Now this is off my chest, I feel like I can honestly start.

Preamble: “This album sucks.” Was what I was going to say. But then I changed my mind. And didn’t….

A Postscript to the Preamble: Brothers in Arms has sold over 30 million copies so it has obviously resonated with people. I actually did already own this, knowing Max’s fascination with it, but just couldn’t bring myself to listen to it. Now I have I can say one thing: It’s so very, very 80s.

Song by Song:

The first track “So Far Away” made me originally say “this is like Bob Dylan if he couldn’t write lyrics or Fleetwood Mac if they sucked”… and I was going to say it’s instantly forgettable. Lovely filler. But on second listen: I quite like it. It reminds me of Dylan circa Time Out Of Mind – it’s got a laid back groove. Oh God. Am I starting to like this?

Money For Nothing. Big Big Hit. Ridiculous drums, pandering-to-the-sponsors-Sting, a song made just out of hooks. The 80s were a weird time. This sounds simultaneously like a smash hit and a half finished song with a cranky old man slurring over it at the same time. I guess Phil Collins was a “pop star” so it’s not so strange Knopfler was too…

Knopfler. It sounds like a verb. “lets Knoplfer this up”. Which I assume means to play the electric guitar with ones fingers – preferably with lots of suck added. Or: we take the best part of the chicken and really Knopfler it up, mmmm mmmmm.

Two more things to note: The video. It’s the Lawnmower man of videos. The concept .Being blue collar workers moaning about Mark Knopfler, perfectly crumulent thing for Mark Knopfler to sing about like a grumpy old man.

The next track: Walk of Life. Weeks ago I dreamt I heard Walk of Life and it was so powerful it made me cry – I was embarrassed but I wanted the sweet melancholy sensation, so I went to listen to it on my own. This is not how I actually feel about the song.

It’s a song that has a hook and is not afraid to hammer it to the ground. It makes me think of middle aged children’s entertainers trying to enthuse tots into dancing at Pontin’s. The best thing about it is how I’ve heard it millions of times and I always immediately forget how the verse goes – future John, just so you know, it’s boogie Dylan all the way. And it goes on forever.

Your Latest Trick. Egregious saxophone. I’m guessing after two huge hits this is going to be filler. The sax reminds of an 80s TV theme tune – something I would have to watch when I was really bored at my grandparents. Again there’s something slightly enticing about the laid back feel, and the melody is subtly hooky… but but but then the sax comes in and I can hate it again.

Why Worry. Nice guitar to start it off. Plus the Knopfler on it isn’t too prominent. It’s pleasant enough and ignorable but I’m waiting for the pay off… is it coming? Is it? Why worry? Oh ok the pay off doesn’t come, but I stopped paying attention so it was ok.

PLEASE TURN OVER YOUR CHARITY SHOP VINYL.

Ride Across The River. The title itself sucks. But the song? Weird mix of influences. I can’t shake the feeling I’m listening to a Dylan album where they’ve mixed him low so you don’t have to listen to his lyrics too much. There’s mariachi trumpets in the background and the rest is mainly 80’s bass and Knopfler. I could imagine being at a wine bar in the 80s not listening to this. I think there’s panpipes on this. It goes on forever and is only the 4th longest song on the album. Wait, does the break down sound like Talk Talk? Oh god, again, am I enjoying this?

The Man’s Too Strong: The start’s very Lindsey Buckingham in the guitar – almost explaining the all metal country blues guitar on the front of an album that is chock full of synths. Then Bob Dylan starts singing. My vinyl is pretty warped here. It’s more of a field recording. I assume they’re having fun playing. And I think there’s a dramatic bit? Oh wait, it was fluff on the stylus. Yes there is a dramatic bit. next.

One World. Ooooh someone’s found the funk bass. This sounds like – and I’m going to stretch to a third musical reference point to show my learnedness – Huey Lewis and The News. Considering Knopfler was a multimillionaire he sure moans a lot about what he can’t get. I mean I don’t expect him not to be depressed, but most things he can get if he wants. Plus, if the song’s from the point of view of a character, I don’t want to hear him. Lot’s of hooks + some Knopfler too.

Brothers In Arms. Ah the ironic title track. I say ironic because, you know, Mark Knopfler’s brother used to be in the band and then he wasn’t so they’re not brothers in arms, you know? This has a traditional tune. And I can’t place it. It’s ummmm yes, Wikipedia says “The Patriot Game”, it’s a good tune. OK a fourth reference – Pink Floyd. There I said it.

Again it goes on forever. It’s kind of emotional. I think it’s about death and war and stuff but to be honest the lyrics wash by me. I think I both simultaneously really like this song and hate it. Oh god. I feel like an observed subatomic particle – I need to take a position but can’t. I’m Schrodinger’s listener… Ummm there’s lots of Knopfler. There you go. I have an opinion.

The Denouement:

So. I can see why this was a big album. Is it terrible? No, not really. Is it great? Again, no. Is it appealing. Very much so. Will I listen to it again. Probably not. Will I listen to Sultans of Swing again? Yes.

4 or 8 out of 10. Let’s go with 6.

John, Sep 15