[Review] Dire Straits (1978)

Who knew the second coming of Bruce would be hidden in the new wave of British invaders?

Kronomyth 1.0: Steel this record.

In the latter half of the 70s, a second British Invasion arrived on the crest of new wave: Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Police. Although contemporaries and countrymen, the sympathies of Dire Straits lie with the old guard: Chet Atkins, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. When “Sultans of Swing” began to take American radio by storm, it sounded more like Dylan had discovered his second wind and hired a great lead guitarist to support him. The band’s eponymous debut was a revelation for rock & roll revivalists. Mark Knopfler’s tart licks and lyrics oozed out of the speakers like lemon icing.

The record proved to be a perfect template, as subsequent efforts would more or less refine the formula but rarely stray from it. While radio stations seemed content to play “Sultans of Swing” to death, the millions of people who picked up their debut were treated to some of the best music since Blood On The Tracks: “Down To The Waterline,” “Water of Love,” “Six Blade Knife,” “Wild West End.” Now, Mark Knopfler’s voice is, I suppose, an acquired taste, gruff but expressive. Not everyone thought Dylan was a great singer either. His lead guitar work, however, which prominently features the steel guitar, is exemplary. You could argue that the man can’t sing, but that his guitar does is beyond question.

The band behind him is rock solid, not pretentious. David Knopfler’s rhythm guitar deserves its own chapter, and the rhythms from John Illsley and Pick Withers provide spot-on support. In fact, their workmanlike approach stokes the idea that “Sultans of Swing” might be self-referential mythologizing. The record also includes a pair of Chet Atkins-inspired numbers (“Setting Me Up,” “Southbound Again”) that nearly cross over into country. Given how uncool country was at the time, you get the sense that Sultans and “In The Gallery” reflect a certain animosity toward the star-maker machinery of popular music. Then again, Dire Straits were hardly struggling: their debut went double-platinum and nearly topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. For all the freshness that The Police, The Clash and others brought to the party, Dire Straits may be the most refreshing debut from 1978.

Original elpee version

A1. Down To The Waterline (3:55)
A2. Water of Love (5:23)
A3. Setting Me Up (3:18)
A4. Six Blade Knife (4:10)
A5. Southbound Again (2:58)
B1. Sultans of Swing (5:47)
B2. In The Gallery (6:16)
B3. Wild West End (4:42)
B4. Lions (5:05)

All selections written by Mark Knopfler.

The Players

John Illsley (bass), David Knopfler (rhythm guitar), Mark Knopfler (vocals, lead & rhythm guitars), Pick Withers (drums). Produced by Muff Winwood; engineered by Rhett Davies.

The Pictures

Cover painting by Chuck Loyola. Design & artwork by Hothouse. Photography by Paddy Eckersley. Art direction by Alan Schmidt.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on October 7, 1978 in the UK (Vertigo, 9102 021/7231 015), the US (Warner Bros., BSK/M5/M8 3266), Australia, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands (Vertigo, 6360 162/7138 101), Canada (Mercury, SRM/MCR4-1-1197) and Japan (Vertigo, RJ-7541) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #5 in the UK (2X platinum record) and #2 in the US (RIAA-certified 2X platinum record). 8-track features different track order. Also released on elpee in 1979 in Colombia (Vertigo, 6360 162).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Taiwan (Jen Sheng, JS-5333).
  2. Re-released with Making Movies on 2-for-1 cassette in 1980 in the US (Warner Bros., 25135).
  3. Re-issued on half-speed mastered elpee in the UK (Vertigo, HS 9102 021) with lyrics innersleeve.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in the UK (Vertigo, 9102 021) {yellow label}.
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Warner Bros., 3266-2).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in Canada and France (Vertigo, 800 051-2) {5 finger? label}.
  7. Re-released on remastered compact disc on July 5, 1996 in the UK and Canada (Vertigo, 800 051-2).
  8. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on September 19, 2000 in the US (Warner Bros., 47769).
  9. Re-released 180g vinyl elpee in Europe (Mercury, 3752902).
  10. Re-released on super high material compact disc on January 23, 2008 in Japan (Universal, UICY-90770).
  11. Re-released on super audio compact disc on August 25, 2010 in Japan (Universal, UIGY-9032).
  12. Re-issued on SHMCD on October 12, 2011 in Japan (Universal, UICY-25010).
  13. Re-released on platinum SHMCD on September 25, 2013 in Japan (Universal, UICY-40008).

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