Three years have passed since Mark Knopfler released his previous solo album, Privateering. Since then, very little has been heard of Mark Knopfler. However, he recently made a welcome return with his eighth solo album, Tracker, which was released by Mercury. The release of Tracker in 2015 is fitting. It’s thirty years since Dire Straits released their landmark album, Brothers in Arms.
13th May 1985 passed almost unnoticed. There was no celebration of this momentus day. That daym thirty years ago, Dire Straits released their biggest selling album, Brothers in Arms. It was released to widespread critical acclaim on 13th May 1985. Soon, Brothers in Arms was well on its way to being certified thirteen times over in Britain. Across the Atlantic, Brothers in Arms sold nine million copies. Eventually, Brothers in Arms went on to sell thirty-million copies, and in the process, single handedly, launched the compact disc.
The compact disc was tailor made for Brothers In Arms. It was the perfect sonic showcase for Dire Straits’ latest classic album. At one point, it was thought that everyone who owned a compact disc plater, owned a copy of Brothers In Arms. This was almost unheard of. Never before had one album launched a new musical format. However, Brothers In Arms wasn’t like most albums.
What helped transform Brothers in Arms into a musical phenomena, were the singles. A total of five singles were released from Brothers in Arms. The sophomore single, quickly became a hit on Money For Nothing MTV. With its landmark video, suddenly, the MTV generation were discovering Dire Straits. This resulted in Money For Nothing reaching number one on the US Billboard 100 charts. Then in December 1985, Walk of Life, which had been destined for a B-Side released as a single. Just like Money For Nothing, the boogie of Walk of Life was very different from much of Dire Straits other music. Gone was their cinematic and smoky, late-night sound. Little did Dire Straits realise the effect these two songs would have.
Following the release of Brothers In Arms, Dire Straits spent the rest of 1985 and much of 1986 touring. A near two year tour was bound to take its toll. The schedule was gruelling. Dire Straits played on ever continent. Night after night, the crowds called for Money For Nothing and Walk Of Life. It was then that Dire Straits realised they had created a monster.
Neither Money For Nothing nor Walk Of Life was representative of Dire Straits’ music. For their longtime fans, it was like listening to a new band. The old Dire Straits featured on So Far Away, Why Worry and the late-night sound of Your Latest Trick. Mark Knopfler and the rest of Dire Straits realised this as night after night, the time came for Money For Nothing and Walk Of Life. These songs had became an albatross for Dire Straits. Eventually, though, the tour was at an end. It had taken its toll.
All the commercial success and critical acclaim came at a cost. Marriages had broken down during the Brothers In Arms tour. They would end in the divorce courts. Within Dire Straits, all wasn’t well. Being together for nearly two years strained relationships within the band. Especially since Mark Knopfler let the other band members know, he was calling the shots. Dire Straits was no longer a democracy. So, it was just as members took a break, allowing Mark Knopfler to work on other projects.
Very little was heard from Dire Straits over the next few years. They reunited for Live Aid in 1986. However, it was another six years before they released another studio album.
To keep their fans happy, Dire Straits released a greatest hits album, Money For Nothing. Someone clearly had a sense of humour. When Money For Nothing was released, it sold 6.1 million copies. It seemed the record buying public’s appetite for Dire Straits music hadn’t abated. That proved to be the case in 1991.
On 10th September 1991, Dire Straits released On Every Street. It was released to mixed reviews. Despite the mixed reviews, On Every Street sold ten million copies. Good as On Every Street was, it fell short of Brothers In Arms. By then, it was the third biggest selling British album, and was perceived as a classic. So, it’s no surprise that On Every Street failed to live up to Brothers in Arms. However, selling ten million copies of On Every Street was pretty good. The only problem was that this meant touring On Every Street.
A gruelling worldwide tour followed. Just like with Brothers In Arms, Dire Straits headed to the four corners of the globe. They played 216 concerts during 1991 and 1992. It was a punishing schedule. So, it’s no surprise that it proved to be Dire Straits’ final tour.
Two years later, on 10 May 1993, Dire Straits released their second live album On The Night. It came ten years after Dire Straits’ classic live album Alchemy was released in 1983. By 1993, Dire Straits were a different band. Their music had evolved. However, still Dire Straits were a tight, talented band live.
This was apparent on On The Night, which had been recorded in Nîmes and Rotterdam, during May 1992. Dire Straits ran through a string of their biggest hits and best known tracks. It was a fitting and popular souvenir of Dire Straits’ final tour. On The Night sold 7.1 million copies. This was a fitting finale from one of the best British bands of the past thirty years.
Two years later in 1995, without any fanfare, Mark Knopfler announced that Dire Straits were no more. The band were going their separate ways. There would be no comebacks in the twenty intervening years. Dire Straits was part of Mark Knopfler’s musical past.
Following the break-up of Dire Straits, Mark focused on his soundtracks. Mark’s first soundtrack was for Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero in 1983. Between Local Hero 1983 and the breakup of Dire Straits in 1995, Mark had written four further soundtracks. In 1984, Mark penned the soundtracks to David Puttnam’s Cal and Bill Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy. The Princess Bride followed in 1987, before Mark released one of his most critically acclaimed soundtracks, Last Exit To Brooklyn. After Last Exit To Brooklyn, took a break from soundtracks.
In 1990, Mark collaborated with The Notting Hillbillies on Missing Presumed Having Fun. The same year, Mark and Chet Atkins released Neck and Neck. Mark seemed to be enjoying working with different artists. However, still, he hadn’t released a solo album.
Eventually, Mark released his debut solo album Golden Heart in 1996. It may have been a long time coming, but was well worth the wait. Golden Heart was a reminder of what music had been missing.
Two years later, in 1998, Mark returned with the soundtrack to Wag The Dog. He also produced Randy Newman’s Land Of Dreams. After six years away from music, Mark Knopfler was back.
There was no stopping Mark. His sophomore album Sailing to Philadelphia was released in 2000, and featured guest appearances from Van Morrison and James Taylor. Sailing to Philadelphia received mixed reviews. Part of the problem for some critics and record buyers, was adjusting to Mark’s new sound. It was quite unlike the music he made with Dire Straits. That was his musical past. His solo career and soundtracks were his musical future.
In April 2002, A Shot at Glory was released. This was the last soundtrack that Mark penned. It was an against the odds story of a hapless football team and their new manager. It was shot in Scotland. So, it was fitting that Glasgow born Mark was asked to provide the soundtrack. While it may not have been the most successful film he provided the score to, many could relate to the story. The same can be said of Mark’s next album
Mark released The Ragpicker’s Dream in September 2002. The reviews were much more favourable. It seemed critics and record buyers were more attuned to Mark’s new, rootsy unplugged sound. With its late night sound, it won the hearts and minds of music lovers.
Another two years passed before Mark was able to release Shangri-La in September 2004. Originally, Shangri-La had been scheduled for 2003. That’s until Mark had a motorcycle accident in March 2003. This resulted in a broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade and seven broken ribs. After months of physiotherapy, Mark was able to head to Malibu, to record Shangri-La in February 2004.
When Shangri-La was released seven months later, thankfully, Mark’s guitar playing hadn’t been affected. He was still one of the best guitarists of his generation. Mark showcased his considerable talents on Shangri-La, fusing blues, country and folk rock. This struck a nerve with critics and record buyers.
After four albums, critics and record buyers had grown accustomed to Mark’s solo sound. In some ways, Shangri-La was a lovingly crafted homage to the music that influenced him. As usual, Mark had poured something of himself into Shangri-La, his comeback album.
It was another three years before Mark released another solo album. He hadn’t been resting on his laurels though. On 21st June 2005, Mark released One Take Radio Sessions. As the title suggests, all the tracks on the album were recorded in one take. It’s a warts and all performance, featuring tracks from Golden Heart and Shangri-La. This being Mark Knopfler, it was a pretty near flawless performance. Any mistakes were left untouched, allowing the listener to hear what Mark sounded like live. They would have another opportunity in 2006.
In April 2006, a collaboration between Mark and Emmylou Harris was released. All The Roadrunning had been recorded over a seven year period. Whenever they had time in their respective schedules, Mark and Emmylou entered the studio. It was a labor of love for the pair. However, by 2006, it was complete. Now the critics had to have their say.
All The Roadrunning was mostly, well received by critics. This bode well for the release of All The Roadrunning. There was no expensive advertising campaign. Quite the opposite. This was a low key release. Mark and Emmylou were happy to let their music do the talking.
That proved to be the case. Despite the low key release, All The Roadrunning reached number eight in Britain and number seventeen in the US Billboard 200. So, Mark and Emmylou toured All The Roadrunning. This resulted in a live album.
Real Live Roadrunning was released in November 2006. After taking seven years to record All The Roadrunning, Real Live Roadrunning hit the shops seven months later. It was well received and sold well. In Germany, Real Live Roadrunning was certified gold. Mark and Emmylou were a potent musical combination. However, this was just a side-project for the pair. They had to return to their solo careers.
Straight away, Mark got to work on his fifth solo album, Kill To Get Crimson. It was recorded between January and March 2007, at British Grove Studios. A total of twelve songs were recorded. They became Kill To Get Crimson, which was released on 17th September 2007.
Before that, Mark hit the road. As soon as Kill To Get Crimson was recorded, Mark and his began a ninety-four date tour of eighty-eight cities. It was as if Mark was determined to build on the success of his collaboration with Emmylou Harris, All The Roadrunning.
This succeeded, despite some mixed reviews. In eighteen countries, Kill To Get Crimson charted. It reached number nine in Britain and was certified silver. Kill To Get Crimson was certified gold in Denmark and Switzerland, and platinum in Norway. In America, Kill To Get Crimson reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200. For Mark Kill To Get Crimson was one of his most successful albums.
Once the Kill To Get Crimson tour finished in March 2008, Mark enjoyed some time off. However, in the back of his mind, he was already thinking about his next album. Given how successful Kill To Get Crimson had been, Mark couldn’t let the grass grow under his feet. Now was the time to Get Lucky.
From November 2008, right through to March 2009, Mark returned to British Grove Studios, in West London. With his band in tow, he recorded the eleven tracks that became Get Lucky.
Nearly six months after completing the recording of Get Lucky, Mark released his sixth album. Get Lucky received some of the best reviews any of Mark’s solo career. It seemed that after six solo albums, critics were warming to Mark’s roots’ sound. So were record buyers.
When Get Lucky was released on 14th September 2009, it managed to surpass the success of Kill To Get Crimson. Get Lucky reached number nine in Britain and number seventeen in the US Billboard 200. Across the world, Get Lucky proved to be one of Mark Knopfler’s most successful albums. Thirty-one years after Dire Straits released their debut album, Mark Knopfler was still going strong.
It wasn’t until 2012, that Mark released the followup to Get Lucky. Before that, he had produced Bap Kennedy’s eighth solo album, The Sailor’s Revenge. It was released in January 2012. Eight months later, Mark released his seventh solo album, Privateering.
Privateering had been recorded twenty songs between March and December 2011. As usual, Mark used British Grove Studios. He was used to the room, and its sound. It had proved the perfect environment for previous albums, so Mark wasn’t going to change a winning formula.
When critics heard Privateering, they were won over by Mark’s new material. Privateering was a fusion of blues rock, folk and country music. This struck a nerve with critics. So, it’s no surprise that critical acclaim accompanied the release of Privateering.
Upon its release on 3rd September 2012, the Mark Knopfler produced Privateering sold well in most parts of the world. Across Europe, Privateering reached the top ten in eighteen countries. In four Austria, Germany, Holland and Norway, Privateering reached number one. Privateering reached number eight in Britain and sixty-five in the US Billboard 200. While Privateering hadn’t sold as well in America, Mark was still a huge draw.
In 2014, Mark Knopfler finally became one of music’s veterans. He was sixty-five on 12th August 2014. However, there was sign of Mark slowing down. Far from it.
During 2014, Mark had been busy. He had recorded his eighth solo album, Tracker. It features twelve new songs. They were written by Mark. To record Tracker, Mark headed to British Grove Studios, in London.
Accompanying Mark, were a rhythm section of drummer Ian Thomas, bassist Glenn Worf and Mark. Keyboardist Guy Fletcher adds vocals, while Bruce Molsky plays fiddle, rhythm guitar and banjo. John McCusker plays fiddle and cittern, Michael McGoldrick whistle and wooden flute and Phil Cunningham accordion. Horns come courtesy of saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and trumpeter Tom Walsh. Ruth Moody adds vocals on Wherever I Go. Mark and Guy Fletcher co-produced Tracker, which was released on 16th March 2015.
Before the release of Tracker, critics had their say. They liked what they heard, and hailed Tracker one of Mark’s finest albums. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Tracker.
When Tracker was released, it became one of Mark Knopfler’s most successful albums. It reached the top ten in eighteen countries. In Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Holland and Norway, Tracker reached number one. Tracker also reached number three in Britain and number fourteen in the US Billboard 200. Considering Tracker was only released two months ago, it seems Mark Knopfler’s music is just as popular as it ever has been. No wonder.
Tracker found Mark Knopfler in a reflective mood, looking back at his life and career. The music is understated, melancholy and eclectic. From blues, Celtic, country, folk and roots to rock, Mark has switches seamlessly between genres. Just like on previous albums, Mark has been people watching. His ability to conjure characters out of his every observations is uncanny. The listener is introduced to a cast of characters and emotions. There’s plenty to enjoy.
That’s the case from Tracker’s opening track, Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes. It’s sing-along sound puts a smile upon your face, before Mark unleashes one of Tracker’s highlights, Basil Bunting.
Instantly, Mark returns to his days as a copy boy on the local newspaper on Basil Bunting. He introduces an older man, trapped in a dead end job, with no apparent escape on the horizon. Then there’s a beautiful ballad, River Towns. It’s one of Mark’s best ballads of recent albums. He’s certainly not lost his magic touch. Next up is the laid-back, shuffling Skydiver. It allows Mark to weave his magic with his guitar, as he delivers a laconic vocal. From there, Mark draws inspiration from his old band.
Broken Bones is built around a two chord groove. There’s a nod to early Dire Straits, as Mark delivers a world weary vocal. That’s also the case on Long Cool Girl. It was an understated and sparse arrangement. Gradually, it unfolds, bringing back memories of a different musical era.
Lights of Taormina features a bluesy sound and influence. It’s a six minute epic, where Mark and his band enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs. After that, Mark takes us onboard Bob Dylan’s tour on the cinematic Silver Eagle. Then Mark pays tribute to author Beryl Bainbridge. The song owes a debt of gratitude Sultans Of Swing and Lady Writer. However, Mark has kept one of his best tracks until last. Wherever I Go features vocalist Ruth Moody. She plays an important part in the sound and success of the track. It’s a fitting finale to Tracker, depending upon which version you buy.
Now that the music industry has been forced to reinvent itself, this is the age of the multi format album. This means there’s several versions of Tracker were released by Mercury. As well as CD and double vinyl releases, there was deluxe CD release and a box set. The deluxe CD features four bonus tracks, including 38 Special, My Heart Has Never Changed, Terminal Of Tribute To and Heart Of Oak. Then there’s the box set. It features a bonus CD, that features six extra tracks. There’s also a DVD in the box set, which features a short film directed by Henrik Hansen, plus an interview with Mark. There’s something for every budget.
Tracker is, without doubt, one of the best albums of Mark Knopfler’s eight album solo career. It features a reflective Mark Knopfler, as he looks back at life, and those he’s encountered. With the help of some of his musical friends, Mark dawns the role of storyteller. Just like he’s been doing since Dire Straits released their eponymous debut album in 1978, Mark is a storyteller par excellence.
Accompanied by a talented band, Mark paints pictures. His music is cinematic, beautiful, wistful, reflective, heartfelt, laid-back and understated. Other times, Mark is laconic, pensive and rueful. All the time, his band creates a suitable musical backdrop. They fill in the spaces left by Mark, taking care not to overpower his lived-in, worldweary vocal.
As Mark’s band provide the musical backdrop, they flit between musical genres. Everything from blues, Celtic, country, folk, roots and rock can be heard on Tracker. So can a Dire Straits’ influence. It’s good that Mark’s not turned his back on the band he founded and lead.
Especially thirty years after Brothers In Arms was released in May 1985, and went on to sell thirty million copies. Ten years later, Mark called time on Dire Straits in 1995. It was a very different group to the one that released their eponymous debut album in 1978. Fittingly, thirty seven years after the release of Dire Straits, their influence can be heard on Mark Knopfler’s critically acclaimed eighth album, Tracker.