Brothers In Arms
Warner Brothers, 1985
REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/08/2012
I was shocked when I looked through the Daily Vault’s archives and realized that Brothers In Arms had not yet been reviewed. Considering that the album is a milestone in the history of pop music, I was surprised.
Brothers In Arms was one of the first all digitally recorded albums, from tracking to disc, and was the first to have the CD format outsell the vinyl format. One funny anecdote about the power of the album came from a Rykodisc employee who stated that the company originally thought that the CD was going to be a boutique market geared for audiophiles looking for crystal clear sound. Yet by 1985, Brothers In Arms nearly squeezed them out of the market because the entire manufacturing capacity of the world was producing this one Dire Straits album. That is a pretty remarkable statement. The CD format also allowed for longer songs, which meant that on the CD version of the album, the group’s more self-indulgent jamming is available for the listener to hear.
Musically, the songs start out solid. “So Far Away” is a lamenting ballad about long distance relationships that holds up well. But the second track, “Money For Nothing,” is the stand out. This collaboration between lead singer Mark Knopfler and Sting has endured as a radio favorite to this day, although in our politically correct world the more controversial lyrics, supposedly near quotations of a working class appliance store worker that spoke with Knopfler, are edited out to protect sensibilities. With its working class lyrics and infectious guitar line, this is one of the best songs written in the ‘80s. Even the music video was cutting edge, using computer animation rather than live action. The statements the song makes about pop culture, MTV, and how musicians shown on MTV were not really working is even more potent today, since MTV rarely plays music and instead runs myriad shows with cast members who have made getting drunk and fighting on reality television their livelihoods. That ain’t workin’.
The fifties flavored “Walk Of Life” is catchy and upbeat. Sadly, it is the last good song on the album. From there the disc descends quickly, with “Your Latest Trick” being a slow sappy saxophone dripping ballad that sounds just perfect for a depressing section in a film that requires dramatic sax music for a montage of city scenes. The second side of the album does little to redeem it either, with several militaristic tunes that oppose war but don’t pack the punch of anti-war songs of the ‘60s or ‘70s or the flavor of Dylan and other folk artists.
So ultimately, Brothers In Arms rode to success because of three songs and the timing of its release with the CD market. The remaining six songs do not raise the quality of the album, especially in the drawn out CD format which only makes weak songs longer (I am not a fan of the self-aggrandizing band jamming tunes). Yet this disc has become one of the biggest selling albums of all time. In my book, despite the historical significance the album holds for the business, the fact that only three songs are worth noting make it the best-selling average album of all time.