Music

Mark Knopfler: Tracker

Tracker is the sound of Mark Knopfler's consistency catching up with him. Again.


Mark Knopfler

Tracker

Label: Verve
US Release Date: 2015-03-17
UK Release Date: 2015-03-16
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Mark Knopfler has settled. He has found his place. You couldn't find a more consistent singer/songwriter/guitarist out there if you tried. The former Dire Straits frontman has been delivering solo albums on a reliable basis since 2000, and none of them turned out to be lemons.

However, as unkind as you think this next statement will sound, I certainly don't mean it that way: "consistent" can't be confused for "best". As prolific as Knopfler has been in recent years, his music has become easier to swallow with each release. In order to give an album like Tracker a fair shake, we need to take Knopfler's inoffensive manner as a given and evaluate the album accordingly. Knowing what we know about Mark Knopfler's music in the 21st century (only one soundtrack, so far), does Tracker have a magnetic pull to it or is it just marking time? I hate to do this to you, but... it's a little bit of both.

Tracker is just a small hike from 2007's Kill to Get Crimson. There's no "Boom, Like That", no "What It Is", no "Why Aye Man". The most uptempo moments, such as "Broken Bones" and "Beryl", breeze by instead of drive. Knopfler's knack for English folk remains as subdued as it ever was. He still finds ways to write a good waltz melody and has fortunately come to realize that the blues is not his strong suit.

Tracker starts off with one of these terrific songs in three-quarter time, one that could get stuck in your brain before the week's end. "Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes" is the sound of growing up socially happy in London while not counting your money: "We were young, so young and always broke / Not that we ever cared." Knopfler and his band also treat it as a moment to stretch out the music and let it breathe. At over six minutes, the "song" itself doesn't really start right away and takes the long road when ending.

In fact, most of Tracker isn't wound very tight (the 16-track edition lasts 77 minutes). "Skydiver", a day in the life of a devil-may-care gambler set to something akin to the Lovin' Spoonful, relies on its simple chorus quite a bit. When English folk meets Americana on "River Towns", Knopfler is in even less of a hurry to take the song anywhere -- not that it has anywhere to go. These are "sorry river towns", after all.

It seems that Mark Knopfler will never run out of narratives, as long as his literary interests maintain their tight grip on his songs. The poet Basil Bunting gets his own waltz through the humbling eyes of a young copyboy, working for little money and facing clientele who are "grumpy as hell". Knopfler expresses his mystification as to why Beryl Bainbridge never won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction through song. He likened the song to his Dire Straits output, though it probably would have been too easy-going to stand out on any of those old albums. Even without the aide of heavy reading, Knopfler's songs never settle for anything trite. He can make getting your ass kicked sound close to poetic, as you will notice that the wah-stomp "Broken Bones" gives more pain bang for your boxing buck than with 2004's "Song for Sonny Liston": "You take it like a man on the chin / And you don't make a fuss when the towel comes in."

It's hard to nail down a specific identity for Tracker. The quality of each song is consistently good, but the album doesn't feel very cohesive when you step back to consider the whole package. You will warm up to some songs considerable quicker than others, almost to the point where slower and quieter numbers are in danger of being overlooked. "Wherever I Go", the track the closes out most editions of Tracker, will likely be remembered more as a vocal duet with Ruth Moody than a distinctive closer. But depending on what format you spring for, you can clinch Tracker with the dirty Stones-esque ditty "Hot Dog" -- "It's either you or me."

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image