I’ve been wanting to write about this record for a long time and I’ve finally figured out the proper venue: Turntable Thursday. As a citizen of the Internet, it is my browser given right, if not my civic duty to reappropriate trends, memes, and hashtags to suit my own ends so I’m using this reoccurring(?) segment to get credit for participating in #TBT and to write about Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms.
I think it’s possible to be too present as a music consumer. I allocate a lot of energy and ear-hours to moving forward and staying current with new music but when this become exhausting, it’s necessary to explore music in reverse. As more of the music I listen to becomes streamable, I’ve been satiating my craving for physical media by spending time with a turntable and aging vinyl. It’s all very hip.
Brothers In Arms turned 30 in May of this year. I’ve always experienced this album innocent of its social and historical context, a nice byproduct of listening to music that predates your own existence. The process of researching and trying to understand an album like Brothers In Arms is fun in a uniquely nerdy kind of way. The anecdotes and aftermath of such a massively popular release always add a little zest to the experience.
I’d been hearing “Money For Nothing” my whole life and I giggled with delight when I read that Sting co-wrote the song and sings alongside of bandleader Mark Knopfler. It wasn’t “Money For Nothing feat. Sting” it was just “Money For Nothing” on the track listing. Forgoing the credit that comes with “feat.” seems so outdated now but it was the norm in 1985. I don’t blame pop stars and rappers for crediting featured artists on their tracks but it often seems like the product of a branding decision instead of an artistic one. Speaking of collaboration watch Mark Knopfler play “Money For Nothing” live with Sting, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and a gospel choir at the Royal Albert Hall. Read that again: Mark Knopfler plays “Money For Nothing” live with Sting, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and a gospel choir at the Royal Albert Hall.
Of course Brothers In Arms is more than just “Money For Nothing”. This album also includes what may be the catchiest synth-organ riff written in “Walk of Life”. Never have the worlds of pop and rock collided so cheerfully as on this classic track. I love it. I had an absurd phase a few years back where I was putting “Walk of Life” on every damn playlist I made. Jarvie, if you’re reading this: thanks for putting up with my nonsense.
Aside from the singles, Brothers In Arms features some compelling tracks that remain timeless decades later. My favorite deep cut from the album is “The Man’s Too Strong” which approaches the line that divides rock & roll from country without ever crossing it. The heavy chords that punctuate the chorus provide a nice contrast against the acoustic noodling and steel guitar twang. I made the fortuitous mistake of cranking up my speakers when revising this track and had to scramble for the volume control as Knopfler’s thunderous guitar strikes started to shake everything not nailed down in my apartment. It’s good shit.
Closing out the album is the title track “Brothers In Arms”. I have to admit that I have a heavily skewed opinion of this song because it happens to be the soundtrack for the most iconic scene of my favorite episode of any television show. I first heard “Brothers In Arms” in The West Wing season 2 finale (“Two Cathedrals”). The show is immensely complex and it would be a waste of time to try explaining the context for exactly why this scene is so incredible but trust me on this one, it’s money. The song itself is gorgeously cinematic in scope, even without the benefit of the American iconography used on The West Wing.
I’ve had Brothers In Arms on my computer for years but I’ve uncovered an entirely new appreciation for the record since hearing it on wax. Several songs are abbreviated on vinyl due to constraints of the medium though the album loses nothing in the abbreviations. Vinyl remains the most restrictive medium for releasing music and it subsequently forces artists to trim the filler. I’ve always believed albums should never exceed 45 minutes without good reason and despite my loyalty to the Compact Disc, the 80 minute capacity often gives artists a little too much freedom. My livelihood is dependent on the limitless expansion of technology but limitations can increase value in surprising ways. Brothers In Arms has sold over 30 million copies in the past 30 years and the music holds up surprisingly well in 2015. With Brothers In Arms, Dire Straits brought roots rock, country, jazz along with global and electronic influences into the pop landscape and the popularity of these trends solidify the record’s relevance years later. Brothers In Arms is essential listening.