Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dire Straits: "Southbound Again" (1978)

Good God, to be 40 and writing about Dire Straits has got to be some special kind of surrender. It's true in 2010, and I think it was probably even true in 1978. At the height of the punk explosion the last thing the world needed was another band of British blues aficionados, a Limey guitar journeyman, an Eric Clapton acolyte... Or maybe that was the first thing the world needed. All I know is Dire Straits wasn't hip in 1978 and they aren't hip now, and sure, we can acknowledge we never cared about hipness, only liked music, but even to assert that Dire Straits was righteous on the merits of the music, as if it wasn't somehow disreputable to have listened to enough '70s British boogie to be able to tell the good from the bad, the tight from the frowzy, is, not to put too fine a point on it, dweeby.

I promise I don't apologize for music that gives me pleasure, but I also can't help but acknowledge all this. Preparatory to saying: just listen to "Southbound Again." Mark Knopfler's guitar sound was Eric Clapton's, to a T. His pub boogie was the same thing every other middle-aged guy was listening to then and now (he was nearly thirty when Dire Straits debuted - he was old). There just shouldn't be any reason for this to be as good as it is.

Thing is, it's tight. Knopfler's tonality might have been swiped from God, but he played with more pluck, more chicken-wire tautness, than God had been able to muster for many a year. His rhythm section's pub boogie might have been old hat, but it was so Muscle Shoals sturdy as to remind you why you liked that hat in the first place. It really is the best thing of its kind, and it still sounds good today. Comfort isn't always a bad thing, sez Howlin' Wolf, and who are we to argue?