[21 September 2009]
Like a college student to free pizza, music critics often seem to experience an intense magnetic pull to compare any new Mark Knopfler solo release to his work with Dire Straits. As time has passed, however, that comparison has proven less and less useful.
First, Knopfler has now spent more of his musical life outside Dire Straits than as a member of the influential UK group he co-founded in the late ‘70s. Secondly, the quantity of music that he’s produced as a film scorer (nearly a dozen soundtracks) and solo artist (six albums) far outnumbers the six-album Dire Straits catalog. And, lastly, Knopfler’s music career outside of Dire Straits has always been a seemingly purposeful departure from (and perhaps reaction to) his work with the hit-making band of “Sultans of Swing”, “Money for Nothing”, and “Walk of Life” fame.
Despite such facts, it is the standard created by Dire Straits to which Knopfler is constantly held. That’s certainly the price to pay for being a world famous rock star, and one that Knopfler is probably willing to shell out, given the fact that it’s allowed him a measure of freedom in his post-Dire Straits career. But, it’s hard to find a review of a non-Dire Straits Mark Knopfler album that doesn’t express some measure of disappointment with its lack of Dire Straits sound. And that’s a shame.
That being said, fans just looking for another Dire Straits record should avoid Get Lucky, Knopfler’s latest album. A muscular rock album with copious riffage it is most definitely not. But, those who have come to appreciate Knopfler’s thoughtful and intelligent songwriting and arrangements are well rewarded by Knopfler’s sixth release. An elegant and picturesque collection of Celtic-infused folk, country-tinged blues, and chamber pop, Get Lucky is enjoyable throughout, it’s pastoral beauty whisking you away to still more pastoral, verdant locales. (Personally, I like to imagine myself lying in a field of sunflowers on the cliffs of Dover, the wind whipping through my imaginary mop of elbow-length blonde hair—or giant afro—it varies.)
Fans of Knopfler’s film scores and post-Dire Straits solo recordings will be familiar with the legendary guitarist’s penchant for pretty, easier-listening music. On his soundtracks for the hit comedies Local Hero and The Princess Bride, Knopfler favored twangy banjo fills, delicate nylon-stringed guitar arpeggios, and moody strings over distorted guitar solos, rocking drums, and soaring vocal histrionics. Get Lucky combines all of those diverse influences and shows a Knopfler who, at the age of 60, continues to mature as a musician, songwriter, arranger, and lyricist. Get Lucky is filled with sweeping strings, subtle melodies, bluesy guitar bits, and Knopfler’s usual smart lyrics.
“Border Reiver”, “Before Gas and TV”, and “So Far from the Clyde” ooze bucolic beauty that makes them the most enjoyable tracks on Get Lucky. These songs feature traditionally-Celtic instrumentation and arrangements and, with infectious melodies and Knopfler’s nylon guitar strumming, sound like traditional Irish folks songs that have been played for hundreds of years.
“Monteleone”, “Get Lucky”, and “The Car Was the One”, with lovely string arrangements and classical guitarwork would sound at home on the soundtrack to The Princess Bride. “You Can’t Beat the House” and “Cleaning My Gun” are rocking blues shuffles. Knopfler’s country-tinged electric guitar fills and subversive lyrics make these songs sure highlights.
“Hard Shoulder” is the only misstep on Get Lucky. With vibrato-flecked guitar and soulful crooning, Knopfler seems to be aiming for Gainsborough-esque lounge territory. Unfortunately, the result ends up somewhere between Tom Jones and Barry Manilow—in a bad way.
I’ll be the first to admit to having been out-to-lunch for extended portions of Mark Knopfler’s post-Dire Straits recording career. With Get Lucky, however, Knopfler has created an enjoyable collection of blues shuffles, countrified ballads, and Celtic-influenced folk songs that deserves attention and, perhaps most important, deserves to stand on its own.