Today, in a fit of nostalgia, I’m going to talk about an album that is, in a sense, a rarity. That sense would be that there are n bad songs on the album. I mean, one might have one’s favourites, and end up skipping a track or two when one is pressed for time, but equally you could just set the album going and not think about think about hovering over the “next track” button when a certain song comes on. Even some albums I like can have quite a few weak spots.
What is this masterpiece of an album? I hear you ask. Or rather, I don’t, because you saw the title of the post. Cheater.
Welcome to “Brothers In Arms” by Dire Straits.
Lemme tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb.
The album kicks off with “So Far Away“, a wonderful Song Of Longing. “I’m tired of being in love and being all alone.”
Then the classic “Money For Nothing“. I don’t know how many times some of my co-workers and I, several years ago now, would comment “That ain’t working” to each other. In this age of “Not being the ’80s”, it’s easy to want to sing the wrong lyrics. “I want my MP3″ rather than “I want my MTV.”
An aside: In one of the Buffy Season 8 comic books, Harmony, a vampire, gets her own reality show. After commenting about one TV network, saying no-one knows what the letters stand for, she talks about MTV. “No-one knows what that stands for, either, but they do reality shows.” She may be a ditz, but she’s onto something…
“We got to install microwave ovens”. Did they ever take much in the way of installing? “We got to install Microsoft Office” was a good replacement for a time, but I don’t think so many people use it, these days. “Microsoft Windows” would be better, but “Office” replaces “ovens” better than “Windows” does. Oh well, it’s all musical graffiti.
“Walk Of Life” is next. Unceasingly upbeat and cheerful, this song is the most Your Mileage May Vary track as it relates to the “no bad song on the album” declaration I made earlier. The song is about a busker singing old songs. “He do the song about the sweet lovin’ woman, he do the song about the knife. He do the walk, he do the walk of life.”
“Your Latest Trick” is a nice mellow number, as is “Why Worry“. The sax part in the former is catchy (apparently it is to saxophone departments in music shops, what “Stairway To Heaven” is to the guitar section).
“Ride Across The River” starts off wonderfully atmospheric. Verse 1 is told from the perspective of a soldier invested in the cause, and the second verse is from the perspective of a mercenary on the opposing side. The third verse philosophises about the conflict, suggesting that neither side is “the good guys”. And the tune that goes along with it is melancholy, almost resigned to the inevitableness of it all.
This graphic was floating around Facebook today, based on a Reddit thread, of US soldiers reflecting upon their time in Afghanistan. Seems to fit the mood of this, and the next song.
“The Man’s Too Strong“. A guilty conscience, and a confession, seemingly before an execution. Do the early choruses of “the man’s too big, the man’s too strong” suggest to you that the guy was a puppet when he was out doing all those naughty things? And now he’s caught, it’s possibly a different The Man?
“One World” ultimately seems tangentially related to the two previous tracks, and the one after it. “But they can’t find a way to be one world in harmony”. And the rest of the song seems about various other layers of discontentedness. Instrumentally, there’s a lot going on in this track. I like the little guitar motif around “They say it’s mostly vanity that writes the plays we act”. Medieval, or possibly Renaissance?
The title track, the pièce de résistance, “Brothers In Arms“, rounds out the album. Again, it’s really moody. The guy from whose perspective the song is sung, implies that he is dying, towards the end of the song. Though it seems like he may already be dead. The dichotomy in the first verse between the “mist-covered mountains” and the lowlands, evokes some comparison with “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond” with the “high road” and the “low road”, one interpretation being it’s the dead guy’s soul will “be in Scotland afore ye”. Another song about war, again there’s the implication of futility. An implication I don’t disagree with. We talk about how barbaric our ancestors were, with all the wars through history, but looking around, it seems like such talk is the pot calling the kettle black. You and I may not feel like we’re worse, but the state our leaders, recent and current, have brought our world to, reveal at the very least that humanity hasn’t left barbarity behind.
I’d love to do a big montage of war movies set to this song. “Brothers In Arms” seems like The Perfect Thing to listen to on Remembrance Day (UK, Veterans Day US). Right up there with watching the M*A*S*H finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”. November’s coming up, the video’s in the garage. Maybe I can swing that last part. Haven’t managed to get my video capturing equipment working for a while.
Well, that seems a bummer note to end on, but it seems like a trait of a great song: gets you thinking.
Please comment below: discuss my takes on the songs, tell me how great “Brothers In Arms” was on that season finale of The West Wing, let me know any albums you can think of with no duff songs, let me know what you want me to talk about in future posts.