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Album Of The Week Club Review: Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms

Was Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms 100% arena-filling classic rock, or a groan-inducing middle-of-the-road snoozefest? You decided...

Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms
Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms

Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms

1. So Far Away
2. Money for Nothing
3. Walk of Life
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

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Brothers In Arms was unstoppable from the moment of its release in May 1985. It made Dire Straits superstars, but it also warped the popular perception of both Knopfler and his band. Dire Straits became a byword for a certain sort of safe, homogenised music, and Knopfler was turned into a caricature of the middle-aged rocker, with jacket sleeves rolled up and wearing a headband.

What was forgotten in the wake of its stellar success was just how striking and sometimes radical Dire Straits had seemed from their inception. The bare-boned economy of Knopfler’s songs and his dizzying guitar fills were a breath of clean air amid the lumbering rock dinosaurs and one-dimensional punk thrashers of the late 70s. He was peerless as craftsman and virtuoso, able to plug into rock’s classic lineage and bend it to sometimes wild forms. He wrote terrific songs, too: taut mini-dramas of dark depths and dazzling melodic and lyrical flourishes. 

Konpfler drove Dire Straits on, expanding their boundaries right up to the point Brothers In Arms became too all-consuming to contain. It wasn’t even as if he had contrived to make a blockbuster. In large part it was hushed and melancholy, a sigh rather than a roar. But it was damned by having its signature single explode out of context. At its core, Money For Nothingwas an old-school boogie, but a dash of studio polish, Sting’s mannered backing vocal and a computer-generated promo video were enough to turn it, and Dire Straits themselves, into the very embodiment of 80s naff.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. Join the group now.

Here’s what we learned about Brothers In Arms!

Background

Towards the end of 1984 Knopfler assembled a new line-up of Dire Straits in London to rehearse their next record. He appeared more single-minded and attentive to detail than ever, rigorously putting the group through their paces for a month before whisking them off to Air Studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat to cut Brothers In Arms.

Air Studios, later razed to the ground by a hurricane, was an idyllic location, and the tranquillity of island life seemed to relax Knopfler to his task. There was an ease to much of Brothers In Arms, as if the music had seeped from his fingertips unbidden. The mood of much of it was low-key and reflective, shifting from the late-night whispers of Why Worry and Your Latest Trick to the near-whispered title track. When it was roused, as on the crashing chords of The Man’s Too Strong, the effect was that much more magnified.

Upon its release, Brothers In Arms met with lukewarm reviews, but it arrived at precisely the right time. MTV was about to launch in the UK, and the music station leapt upon the animated promo for Money For Nothing, choosing it as the first video to be aired on the channel. The compact disc had also arrived, and Brothers In Arms’ exquisite production was tailor-made for the new format. 

The album sold more than a million copies on CD alone, taking Dire Straits to a new generation of consumers who saw music a status symbol. It took up a four-year residency in the UK chart and spent nine weeks at No.1 in the US, elevating Knopfler and his band to the top table of 80s megastardom alongside Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna.

Other albums released in May 1985

Magnum - On a Storyteller's Night
Supertramp - Brother Where You Bound
Stryper - Soldiers Under Command
Savatage - Power of the Night
Robert Plant - Shaken 'n' Stirred
Night Ranger - Seven Wishes
Joe Walsh - The Confessor
Bathory - The Return……
Warlock - Hellbound
Grim Reaper - Fear No Evil
Tangerine Dream - Le Parc
Black Flag - Loose Nut

What they said

Carefully crafted instead of raucous, pretty rather than booming, and occasionally affecting, the record is beautifully produced, with Mark Knopfler's terrific guitar work catching the best light. The lyrics are literate, but the scenarios aren't as interesting as they used to be on records like Making Movies, still the band's most solid LP. (Rolling Stone)

Brothers in Arms brought the atmospheric, jazz-rock inclinations of Love Over Gold into a pop setting, resulting in a surprise international best-seller. Of course, the success of Brothers in Arms was helped considerably by the clever computer-animated video for Money for Nothing, a sardonic attack on MTV. But what kept the record selling was Mark Knopfler's increased sense of pop songcraft. (AllMusic)

Brothers… has a fine array of chart moments, including, of course, the Sting-assisted video hit Money for Nothing, the moody So far Away and faux bop Walk Of Life. But it gets them out of the way in the manner of mere aperitifs and then massages you with a suite of Knopfler’s very fine brand of JJ Cale-lite. Along with gruff nods to Dylan and James Burton. Like contemporaries U2 they had the golden touch that made their gold instantly more American and mythical than most acts from the States. (BBC)

What you said

Chris Perrins: Maybe when it comes to this album the term Classic Rock reflects more than the music itself. Obviously it came out at a time of change in the music industry and benefitted hugely from both the emergence of MTV and Compact Disc. These changes were a symbol of peoples increasing desire to be spoonfed product in the quickest way possible. Whether the smartest of marketing exercises or just pure good luck, either way Brothers In Arms is a classic album. Everyone has it, everyone knows the computer graphic video for Money for Nothing and the blooper reel American Football clips on Walk of Life. But do those songs stand up as classic songs for the music themselves? Probably not. 

The album is decidedly low key from the get go. So Far Away is hardly a barnstorming opener. Later on Why Worry and Your Latest Trick do little to lift the spirits. One World is clearly a filler before the punchline we have been waiting for in the song that gave the album it's name. So I don't rate it? Wrong! I love it. Brothers In Arms is, for me, an album that defines an era. 

It transports me back to a time and a place, more than stimulating memory, it makes me feel like I am a teenager again, picking up my guitar, wanting to play the Money For Nothing riff. Yes Dire Straits recorded better songs and arguably better albums but none ever had the impact of this one. Perhaps disposal as some of the tunes maybe, the title track still stands up today as a truly beautiful, powerful piece of music. As a collection Brothers In Arms is proof that music, and more specifically albums, are a piece of people's lives. A snapshot of a period of time every bit as clear as a photograph.

Brian Carr: A couple of months ago, it was time for my long time guitar student to pick a new song to work on; I groaned when he chose Money for Nothing, a song that lands square on the list of “songs I could never hear again in my life and be totally happy.” Great guitar riff, but so overplayed...

So how about the rest of the album? First and foremost, Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing is tasteful and fantastic throughout. For that reason, I’d probably like Brothers in Arms a lot, but for some lousy sound choices and questionable track listing (gotta try that alternate song order someone posted). So Far Away is an ok song, but an album opener? No way. One World is my favorite track on the album, but it’s buried second from the end. 

The sound choices that subdue my enthusiasm are primarily that horrible keyboard sound on Walk of Life, and the schmaltzy sax on Your Latest Trick. The latter was particularly frustrating because the muted trumpet sound that comes before it is so much better, along with the echoed guitar lines in the background. Less synth, more guitar would increase my joy and my 5/10 rating.

John Holden: Where do you stand you so called rock geeks, Dire Straits are one of the greatest bands to come out of the UK and Brothers In Arms is one of their best. I am a rock fan and this album and Dire Straits is better than a lot of US rock anyday!

Juanjo OrdásJuanjo: Never liked it. In fact I never liked DS at all. Of course, I'm not an expert but as a casual listener (and big rock fan) I always though them as a mixed bag. They got good songs and boring FM singles, but always saw them as some kind of yuppy music without attitude.

Franklin Tummescheit: In my opinion the best Dire Straits album ever. One of my first CDs I bought and enjoyed. The title song Brothers in Arms was and is simply amazing - but at that time I loved all the songs. A must have and must know for every serious collector of rock music. 10/10 

Ken Dunckley: Lets be frank. Knopfler is a terrific guitar stylist but his vocals are pedestrian at best. Some might argue the Bob Dylan defence that his voice is an acquired taste but I've heard Money for Nuthin and Sultans of Swing for 30 years and it hasn't grown on me one whit. A cynic would argue that Sting's backing vocal on Money propelled the album and single more than it merited, but theres no denying that Knoplfer is a great songwriter and composer. The most commendable and most damning aspect of this album is that it defines a precise time and place musically and culturally. Take that as you will.

Marc Rider: It was a breath of fresh air at the time of its release and although Money for Nothing seems a bit contrived the album holds up to the test of time. Excellent songwriting. Killer musicianship. Great production. Fun record!

Warren Bubb: Difficult to be objective about this one. It's been played to death since it came out. Trying to think about the first time I heard it and I didn't like it as much as Making Movies though it didn't contain any tracks as bad as the execrable Les Boys. Still tend to play Making Movies or the debut album if I fancy some Dire Straits.

Kenny Lucas: I was a big Dire Straits fan before brothers and it took a bit for me to catch on to this album but the more and more I listened the more appreciative I became of the wizard Mark Knopfler. I was into high end car audio at the time and it became my “go to” CD for showing off my system.

Ed Brown: This album came out at a time where this was the type of album that I was blindly opposed to. It was MTV at its worst, Dad Rock with a slick music video on constant rotation. Now with what feels like many many lifetimes later I find myself listening to everything I despised in my youth. Do I still despise it? No not really. Will I ever listen to it willingly again? Most certainly not. Wasn't my style then and it's not my style now.

Michael Piwowarski: Well, to sum up my thoughts on Brothers in Arms in one sentence: the first three tracks are the highlights. Especially Walk of Life, a cheerful, upbeat, old fashioned rock and roll tune that is impossible to hate. Money for Nothing is of course an undeniable classic, having come out during MTV's heyday. The rest of the album, well, it's alright but kind of sleepy. Most of the other tracks feel like filler material to me, but of course it mostly depends on my taste. I would definitely say Making Movies is Dire Straits' best album, hands down. It serves as a better showcase of Mark Knopfler's musical and songwriting talents, and it just feels more upbeat and exciting all the way through. That being said, Brothers in Arms is still a classic, no doubt.

Rudy Talavera: Not really a Dire Straits fan but it's alright. The guitar on Money for Nothing is great and the playing in general is good. Production and songwriting is very good but I only listened through a few times and sold the vinyl shortly after buying it. I bought the cd at a rummage sale a few yeras ago for a buck but only listened to it once. Reminds me of MTV. I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

Maxwell Martello: I was born in 1988 and I grew up with my dad’s mostly 50’s, 60’s and 70’s blues/rock record collection. Like every other “dad rocker”, he got into Dire Straits and kept buying their records in the 80’s. If you were a thirty something yuppie used to be hippie kind of guy like my dad, the 80’s meant mostly four artists: Steve Winwood gone disco with taste, Eric Clapton (by inertia), Stevie Ray Vaughan and... Dire Straits. Some other dad rockers fell for Toto, Police and a bit of ‘DC, but not mine.

Anyways, as a kid growing up in the Napster-free 90’s, my dad’s records appealed to me like a goldmine, compared to what the airwaves and the ailing MTV had to offer. And I gotta say that Money for Nothing totally stuck out from everything else! I was immediately sold on the processed, quite distorted guitar tone and the overall bad-assery of the song. My dad had educated me with loads of Cream, but this was an entirely different animal. It was my first exposure to 80’s heavy metal! Little did I know that this was a parody/mockery of the Mötleys of the day!

In a twist of irony, I then became infatuated with all things hair metal! 

So... I’ll be forever grateful to Money For Nothing and Brothers in Arms!

Nicholas John Payne: I'm not sure what went wrong with music at this time. From Never Mind The Bollocks to Dare it seemed that music could be both exciting and inspiring. America just remained ignorant of all this of course. They still lived in Allman Brothers country rocksville and this is the audience the non new wavers chased. Everyone from Phil Collins to Rod Stewart. Dire Straits were no exception. Being a little bit older than the punks they still had one foot in the sixties and particularly roots revival. The most bland music scene there has ever been and why we get the likes of Ed Sheeran and Jake Bugg as the best that Britain can produce because we've become boring as a race and it can be all be traced back to Brothers In Arms and Rumours. The dullest records ever to be made.

Jim Linning: One of those albums that I didn't like at the time of release - a bit dull, a bit worthy perhaps - but I have grown to enjoy it over time. Having said that, it isn't an album I'd enthuse over too much; it's more one to "appreciate" than get too excited about. Just about defines the 6/10 album for me.

Doug Woodhouse: I love the album especially the lesser known tracks such as Why Worry and The Mans Too Strong but Love Over Gold is my favourite album ever and for me BIA isn’t a patch on it. Ultimately, despite its ultra sales figures I think it pretty much marked the beginning of the end for Dire Straits as it changed many peoples opinion of them from ‘its fashionable to like them’ to the opposite - very sad as I loved the band...

Mike Knoop: Three cheers for dad rock! I bought this one on cassette in high school and it was instantly the most "grown-up" album in my collection. And I congratulated myself for being grown-up enough to get it! :) Like many, I came for Walk of Life and Money for Nothing, but stayed for the haunting title track, the all-night jazz of Your Latest Trick, and the brooding twofer of Ride Across the River and The Man's Too Strong. I think Mark Knopfler tells great stories and his weary and understated voice is perfect for them. And his guitar playing isn't too shabby either. 

But does it rock? I don't know, but I keep learning that rock is a pretty big umbrella.

Iain Macaulay: There’s no denying Knopfler is a competent guitarist but, oh my god, what a dull, lifeless album. I didn’t like it when it came out and listening to it now, hearing that intro of So Far Away kick in, brought back so many memories of school, and not good ones, and I’m afraid to say, my opinion hasn’t changed. But, at least I listened... I’m sorry, there are not many bands that bring out a strong negative reaction in me but unfortunately Dire Straits are one of them.

Jon Peacock: No band splits opinion more than Dire Straits. Although I’m not a hater of DS, I’m not a lover either. The title track is the best thing on here by far, I find the rest a bit of its time, MTV worthy for a certain video, but not much else. I found it was the older folks that liked Knopler & Co, 10 or more years older than I was, not many in my age group (20’s at the time) much bothered with them. I tried to give it a listen, but it just doesn’t strike a chord (intended), I suppose for me it’s just too middle of the road, 4/10 at best.

Neil Wilson: While I didn't mind a couple of tunes I'm not a fan of this bland, pedestrian mainstream music that appeals to countless pretend rock music lovers! Talk about overrated, it's about as rock as other boring artits like U2, Bob Dylan, REM, Coldplay, etc- boring as bat shit and disposable as McDonald's hamburgers appealing to countless sheep with no taste!

Tim Roughsedge: Fell in love with this album when it came out, I was 13. If that makes it dad rock well, I'm old before my time. Just had it on my playlist recently and it still stands up, even though my playlist is now a mix of extreme metal, classic rock, punk, trad metal and every other flavour of guitar. Making Movies is currently on playlist but BIA is a consistently great album.

Gavin Norman: Couldn’t escape that album in 85 - I was 14 and my Geordie geography teacher played it endlessly on a coach trip to the south of France despite the groans from the kids and requests for simple minds and U2- by the end of the trip we all quite liked it ! 

For me it’s not as good as Love Over Gold, which came before, and is the weakest of the first five albums. However, it has many gems - The Man's Too Strong / Why Worry / Ride Across The River and the title track, along with Your Latest Trick and Money For Nothing. In fact, the only songs I struggle with are Walk Of Life and So Far Away

Of its time, and brings back some good memories.

Lewis Griffiths: Good god, no. And I'm speaking as someone who bought some of their earlier stuff on vinyl. My wife really hates this album, possibly the only album she hates more than Waking Up The Neighbours. Now, I wouldn't go that far, but I really couldn't be arsed to ever make the effort to listen to it again. It does nothing for me at all - it's not that it's technically bad, or the musicianship is poor, not at all... it's just... boring AF. Sorry, Knopfler fans, but that's my honest reaction - boredom.

Dominic Grierson: After last week's Deep Purple record I fell down a Rainbow/Dio rabbit hole I just clambered out to give this a spin. 

This week's choice doesn't really sound like rock to my ears at the moment. Perhaps pop-rock is a fair classification. I like Knopfler's playing but I seldom get the notion to listen to Dire Straits. I like Money For Nothing and The Man's Too Strong. Walk Of Life hasn't aged well. That keyboard riff is toe-curling. Like most people Sultans Of Swing is my favourite dire straits tune; this seems miles away. The production is slick but very treble heavy and inorganic. 

I'd never actively listened to this album in its entirety unti tonight, but being a child of the 80s it's in there by osmosis. I just about know every note be it from shops, lift music/phone on hold music (Your Latest Trick) or from endless radio play. The record leaves me utterly unaffected - neither up nor down. I'm sure somebody somewhere loves this record as much as I love Exile On Main Street or Appetite For Destruction. Not sure I'd really want to spend any time with them though. Not a bad album technically very good in lots of ways on several songs. It's just a bit unexciting....

James Praesto: When my grandmother got up in her years, she would take me and my brother to the same spot by a big field every summer to see if she could still hear the crickets chirping, Apparently she had been told by her doctor, that when you get old, the frequency of the cricket sound is lost to your hearing. Finally, on one of those summer days, me and my brother heard the crickets and she didn't. We told her we couldn't hear them either, but she cried all the way home.

I will do the same with this album. I will listen to it on the same day every year - let's say May 15th - and if I ever start to even remotely dig it, I am officially old and you can send me to a farm upstate.

Final Score: 7.23 ⁄10 (318 votes cast, with a total score of 2301)

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