Dire Straits is one of the most iconic rock bands from the 1980’s and ‘Money for Nothing’, from their 1985 album Brothers in Arms, remains the bands best selling single. But is this the best song on the album?
Most people who have ever turned on the radio would recognise Sting singing the famous intro to “Money for Nothing” – I want my MTV. However there are another 8 tracks on Brothers in Arms, the fifth studio album from the band.
Brothers in Arms, produced by Mark Knopfler and Neil Dorfsman, saw Dire Straits move into a new era of popularity, success and international stardom. The album features a more lavish production and overall sound than Dire Straits’ earlier work, and came with many big chart singles, making it their most commercially successful album. It is the 8th best-selling album of all time in the UK.
The Dire Straits sound is drawn from various influences. These include country, folk, blues and jazz. Their stripped-down sound contrasted with punk rock, and demonstrated a roots rock influence that emerged from pub rock.
Overall the record is well produced, with Mark Knopflers outstanding guitar work catching the best light. Side one of the album has five tracks. The album opens with ‘So Far Away’, a moody song about the troubles of long distance relationships with a catchy bass line rumbling underneath it. Personally this is my favourite on the album, as it reminds me of some of Dire Straits earlier works.
‘Money for Nothing’, the most popular song on the album was notable for several reasons. It’s controversial lyrics, ground-breaking music video, and cameo appearance from the The Police’s Sting helped this song reach global heights. Sting’s falsetto introduction and backing vocal compliments Knopflers lyrics inspired by delivery men in New York, who he overheard complaining about their jobs while watching MTV.
In a time where the MTV network took off, ‘Money for Nothing’ not only showcased the strengths of the music video format, but proved that exposure on MTV could propel artists to superstardom. This single indeed made Dire Straits superstars, but saw them move away from the bands classic sound, much to the disapproval of many longstanding fans.
‘Walk of Life’ follows, a bouncy rock and roll song dominated by a quintessential organ that is a celebration of London’s unsung heroes: buskers and street performers. Mark Knopfler was credited for his increased sense of pop songcraft, and the single ‘Walk of Life’ is a prime example of this.
‘Your Latest Trick’ also began in New York, inspired by Mark Knopfler’s time spent living in the city and starting to “breathe it in”. The song starts with a soothing and catchy saxophone intro Played by 15-time Grammy Award winner Michael Brecker. This song is dominated by synth rather than guitar, and the late-night whispers from Knopfler keep the mood low-key. The album starts with great promise, but after the first four songs it is only downhill.
‘Why Worry?’ is the most lacklustre track on the album. It runs for over eight minutes, and is almost a lullaby rather than a song. Knopfler is singing about a loved one and although very intimate, the four minutes of instrumental does not do enough to keep me engaged in the music.
Side two opens with ‘Ride Across The River’, a hidden gem in the album. Although it is not nearly as popular as the first four songs, it definitely stands out on side two of the production. The guitar dominates over a symphony of intriguing sounds, such as the synthesised pan flute , a reggae-influenced drum and eerie background noises. Knopfler’s lyrics portray a story of soldiers and war.
‘The Man’s Too Strong’ is also lyrically focused on militarism, more specifically the character of an ancient soldier and his fear of showing feelings as a weakness. This song doesn’t feel like much more than filler to me. Side two of the album is more ambitious but ultimately less successful.
‘One World’ is another one that lacks that spark. It takes inspiration from eighties guitar-driven blue, and although not a bad song, it is nothing more than mediocre when comparing it to the work Dire Straits are capable of.
The album finishes with the self titled track ‘Brothers In Arms’, an anti-war tribute honouring the comradeship of soldiers. Mark Knopfler wrote the song imagining himself as a dying soldier. The song speaks volumes on the tragedy of conflict and is often played at military funerals. This anthem has touched many people, and despite it not being one of my favourites on the album, it definitely has earned its place.
Overall this album has its highs and lows. It starts very strong but fades quickly after the first four songs. ‘Money For Nothing’ was the single that turned the band into the very embodiment of 80s rock stars, but personally it was not my favourite song. The moody ‘So Far Away’ takes the cake for me, as it reminds me of Dire Straits earlier work, which I am more of a fan of. Knopflers clever writing is to commend however, as his genius song-craft cemented Dire Straits as one of the most influential rock bands in history. It is evident that Knopfler did a lot of reflecting when writing this album, with a heavy emphasis placed on soldiers at war.
The ‘Brothers In Arms’ era is a significant part in the bands history and at the conclusion of their international tour, Knopfler stepped away from the band to focus on solo work.