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GanjaTron's Classic Albums:
Brothers in Arms (1985)

Dire Straits -- Brothers in Arms

This is the album that marked Dire Straits' breakthrough into the mainstream, catapulting them to commercial success and MTV stardom -- concepts which were totally alien to bandleader and songwriter Mark Knopfler, and which he never aspired for.

Brothers in Arms was a celebrated sonic benchmark that showcased the merits of digital recording. It was one of the first mainstream DDD CDs (and that was a big deal at the time). Brothers sounded noticeably cleaner and punchier than contemporary analogue recordings, even on the radio (with the DJ's obligatory boast that they had it on CD).

This was the CD everyone fortunate enough to enter the digital realm in the mid-80s (when CD players became affordable for the average household) had to have. Every self-respecting hi-fi retailer had a copy on the shelf for auditioning equipment well into the 90s. Today it sounds a bit clinical, bright, hard edged, and --let's face it-- unnatural. Remasters have since been released, but I haven't gotten the chance to hear one.

But it wasn't just the recording technology that made Brothers sound considerably different from previous DS albums. Prolific use of synthies throughout the album and less of their traditional Rockabilly made it more accessible to the average 80s audience. Overall the album sounds a lot more polished and poppier than its predecessors. This was clearly DS's most commercial album to date, and probably dismayed many a diehard fan. One thing remained though, and that was Knopfler's croaky, at times garbled lyrics. ;^)

The title track closes the album, oddly enough. It conveys the suffering and horrors of war in a deeply melancholy tone. An unsual subject to broach during the halcyon 80s, when wars were the last thing on people's minds (at least in the western hemisphere).

From the opposite end of the spectrum comes the jubilant Walk of Life, still one of the album's most popular tunes that enjoyed great success as a single. This is the jaunty Rockabilly sound most people tend to associate with previous DS releases.

Another standout track is The Man's too Strong, a ballad featuring Knopfler's famous steel guitar, the raw nuances of which are beautifully captured through this digital recording. What makes the track so extraordinary are the dynamic outbursts on the chorus, which, while not quite approaching audiophile standards, once again showcase the (then) advanced recording technology employed on this album.

In contrast, the laid back, sax-centric Your Latest Trick winds things down. A marvellously atmospheric, bittersweet tune.

And then there's Money for Nothing, still my fave tune then and now. There really isn't a helluva lot more to say about this MTV parody cum anthem that hasn't already been said. It is simply one of those unforgettable tracks from the mid-80s that has easily stood the test of time. With its hellraising drum staccato intro cutting to Knopfler's crunchy overbearing Les Paul, witty lyrics ("the little faggot with the earring and the makeup") and aggressively screeching synths, nothing before or since in recording history has come close to the punch conveyed by this track.

Money for Nothing was originally conceived as an acrid assault on MTV and its superstar protagonists. Repeated airplay of its promotional video (which Knopfler intially vehemently objected to) ironically made it one of the most popular videos of all time, and the original message was lost in the hype. The groundbreaking video was one of the first to use extensive computer graphics imagery and character animation (rendered on a Bosch FGS 4000), causing quite a stir at the time. More than 20 years on I still consider it the greatest video of all time. Incidentally, it's also what ultimately inspired me to pursue computer graphics professionally. ;^)

This is my definitive classic album; I need look no further. Looking back over the years, it's clear I have dedicated a significant portion of my lifetime listening to this album, and I have no regrets; it was time well spent. This is an album that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

Track Listing

  1. So Far Away
  2. Money for Nothing (video)
  3. Walk of Life (video)
  4. Your Latest Trick
  5. Why Worry
  6. Ride Across the River
  7. The Man's too Strong
  8. One World
  9. Brothers in Arms (video)

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