DIRE STRAITS- COMMUNIQUE.
DIRE STRAITS- COMMUNIQUE.
7th July 1978 is the day that changed the lives of the four members of Dire Straits forevermore. That day, Dire Straits released their eponymous debut album. This was the beginning of a glittering seventeen year career. However, it wasn’t until Sultans Of Swing was released as a single in the spring of 1979, that Dire Straits made a commercial breakthrough in America. That was a game-changer. Dire Straits become one of the biggest bands of the next three decades.
When Sultans Of Swing was released in the Spring of 1979, it quickly became a staple of American radio. This helped propel Dire Straits debut single to number four in the US Billboard 100. By then, Dire Straits was a hugely popular album.
Back home in Britain, Dire Straits reached number five. In America, Dire Straits surpassed this, reaching number two in the US Billboard 200. Across the world, Dire Straits was a huge success. From Australia to France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, reached the top ten in the album charts. Dire Straits was a glittering success.
By February 1979, Dire Straits was certified silver in Britain. Eventually, it was certified gold in November 1979 and double platinum in February 1986. Over the Atlantic, Dire Straits was certified gold in America in February 1979 and double platinum in January 1987. Elsewhere, Dire Straits was certified platinum in Australia, France Germany and New Zealand. By 1979, Dire Straits had sold over six million copies worldwide. Quietly, this unfashionable quartet had taken the world by storm. However, by then, Dire Straits were getting ready to release their sophomore album Communiqué.
Given the initial success of Dire Straits, Vertigo, Dire Straits record company were pushing for a followup album. This was even before Dire Straits took America by storm. However, the last year had taken its toll on the band. Dire Straits had toured Britain and Europe promoting their debut album. This had been a shock to their system. Each night they played a new city. It was a far cry from the London pub circuit. Not that Dire Straits were complaining.
All they needed was some time to relax, and get their head round their new found success. Then they would be ready to begin work on their sophomore album. That wasn’t going to happen. Vertigo in Britain and Warner Bros. in America wanted Dire Straits to head into the studio.
Dire Straits were new to the workings of the music industry. They felt they were in no position to argue. So, Mark Knopfler got to work, penning nine new songs. These songs would be recorded at Compass Point Studios, in the Bahamas.
Recording of what became Communiqué began at Compass Point Studios on 28th November 1978 with a new production team. Whereas Muff Winwood had produced Dire Straits, Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler were chosen to produce Communiqué. Everything was in place for the followup to Communiqué.
With the tapes ready to roll, Mark Knofler played lead guitar and sang lead vocals. David Knofler played rhythm guitar, while drummer Pick Withers and John Ilsley provided Dire Straits’ rhythm section. Things went smoothly and the session finished on 12th December 1978. This allowed the four members to head home for Christmas for some well earned rest and recuperation.
That was just as well. From the Spring of 1979 onwards it was unlike anything Dire Straits had ever experienced. First they took America by storm. Then they won over the rest of the Western world. Suddenly, Bob Dylan wanted Mark to play on his Slow Train Coming album. For the four members of Dire Straits, they were living the dream. It was just as well they had already recorded Communiqué, which was mixed in Muscle Shoals.
With Communiqué ready for release on 15th June 1979, Dire Straits were able to build on the commercial success of their eponymous debut album. However, would lightning strike twice for Dire Straits?
Privately, Mark Knopler was worried. He was worried that having written and recorded Communiqué in such balmy, luxurious surroundings, it had made his songwriting lazy? Had he been stuck in his comfort zone. Was Communiqué too similar to Dire Straits? Surely though, the Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler production partnership would’ve pointed this out? With all these unanswered questions flying around his head, Mark approached the release of Communiqué with a degree of trepidation.
As a former music journalist, Mark Knopfler knew how savage critics can be. If they don’t like an album, they don’t hold back. Mark’s fears were partly justified. Reviews of Communiqué were mixed. Most critics enjoyed Communiqué. They remarked upon the sometimes laid-back, spacious and cinematic sound. However, Communiqué was different from Dire Straits in one regard. The rest of Dire Straits are given the chance to shine. They grasp the nettle, and showcase their considerable musical talents. However, not everyone enjoyed Communiqué. Other critics remarked that Communiqué sounded similar to Dire Straits. They accused Dire Straits of remaking their debut album. This included the “usual suspects,” including the self appointed “dean Of American critics.” He didn’t like Communiqué. Not that that mattered a jot. Communiqué would build on the commercial success of Dire Straits.
On Communiqué’s release on 15th June 1979, the Dire Straits success story continued apace. It reached number five in Britain and number one in Germany, Sweden and New Zealand. Elsewhere, Communiqué reached the top ten in Australia, Austria and Norway. Then when Communiqué was released in America, it reached number eleven in the US Billboard 200. All this success resulted in gold and platinum discs aplenty.
In America and Finland, Communiqué was certified gold. Elsewhere, Communiqué was certified platinum in Denmark, Germany, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Britain. While Communiqué was certified double-platinum in Canada and France, it was certified triple-platinum in Switzerland. In the Vertigo and Warner Bros.’ headquarters, the sales of Communiqué were being added up. Once the final totals were added up, it came to nearly 2.5 million copies. That wasn’t the end of the commercial success.
A month after the release of Communiqué, Dire Straits released Lady Writer as a single. It reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number fifty-one in Britain. While this proved slightly disappointing, Dire Straits had come a long way in two years. They were now one of the biggest, and most successful bands in the world. Communiqué, which I’ll tell you about.
Once Upon A Time In The West opens Communiqué. Mark’s trademark crystalline guitar lingers, as the rest of Dire Straits ready themselves to join the fray. John’s bubbling bass and Pick Withers’ hypnotic drums are joined by David’s rhythm guitar. Carefully, he picks out notes. Meanwhile, Mark, forever the observer and people watcher, comments on the state of the world. His vocal is worldweary. He’s at his wariest, seeing danger everywhere. His advice is “some of you mothers ought to lock up your daughters.” Looking further afield, he sees trouble in America: “heap big trouble in the land of the plenty, tell me how we’re gonna do what’s best?” As Mark delivers the lyrics, his guitar chimes and quivers. Later, harmonies are added. By then, Dire Straits are in a groove, creating a slow, moody backdrop to Mark’s worldweary, wary vocal.
Before forming Dire Straits, Mark was a journalist. His journalistic background never left him, provided inspiration for many songs, including News. Just Mark’s guitar chimes, shivers and quivers before the rhythm section enter. John’s bass is prominent in the mix, slowly meandering across the arrangement. Meanwhile, Pick’s drums provide the heartbeat. Mark is painting pictures with his lyrics. They’ve a cinematic quality. So much so, it’s possible to imagine as: “he climbs on his horse” and goes “gambling with his life.” Scenes unfold before the listener’s eyes. The character isstubborn and nonchalant in equal measures. His attitude to danger and death is summed up in the closing line: “he makes a line in the news.” It’s a truly poignant ending to a cinematic epic.
Just an acoustic guitar is strummed before a cymbal crashes on Where Do You Think You’re Going? Mark’s vocal a mixture of frustration and disappointment as he asks “where Do You Think You’re Going? Don’t you know it’s dark outside…don’t you care about my pride? As the story unfolds, the drama and emotion builds. Rolls of drums, washes of Barry Beckett’s keyboards are added. By then, the Knopfler brothers in musical harmony. As Mark plays lead, David plays rhythm. There’s more than a hint of the direction Dire Straits would take on Love Over Gold. Then when the vocal drops out, seamlessly Dire Straits become one. They increase the tempo and enjoy the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills on another cinematic tale of love gone wrong.
Lady Writer was the only single released from Communiqué. It was perfect for a single, bursting into life. Inspiration for the song came when Mark turned on the television, and saw a Lady Writer, who was discussing the Virgin Mary. Speculation surrounds the Lady Writer’s identity, but some believe it was Marina Warner. Regardless of her identity, it was a future Dire Straits’ classic. That was apparent from the opening bars.
Chiming, crystalline guitars join the rhythm section who power the arrangement along. Above the arrangement Mark delivers a lived-in, weary vocal. It’s a mixture of cynicism and frustration, especially as he sings: “yes you and your rich old man;” and “then I recall my fall from grace.” As if inspired by one of Mark’s finest vocals, the rest of Dire Straits create the perfect backdrop. They create a flowing, mid tempo arrangement. To that they add harmonies and handclaps. Later Mark delivers a breathtaking guitar solo. This is the finishing touch, as Dire Straits bring to life the story of the Lady Writer, a Dire Straits classic.
Angel Of Mercy has an understated, spacious arrangement. Dire Straits play loosely and with a subtlety. John’s bass sits in background. So does Pick’s drums. Blistering guitars are unleashed, while a rhythm guitar is panned left. This sets the scene for Mark’s vocal. Again, his lyrics paint pictures. He tells the story of this Angel Of Mercy whose been mistreated by an abusive man. That’s apparent in the lyrics: “I got the dragon at noon, yes and I won the fight, now I want my reward in heaven tonight, just like you promised.” As Mark delivers the lyrics anger, frustration and sadness shine through. Especially as he sings: “Angel Of Mercy, angel delight, give me my reward in heaven tonight.” The rest of Dire Straits add singalong harmonies, before briefly, the arrangement returns to an understated, meandering sound. From there, Dire Straits return to their pub rock roots, despite Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett’s influence.
Portobello Belle is another song with a cinematic quality. Against a backdrop of a strummed guitar, rhythm section and occasional stabs of piano Mark introduces Bella Donna. She’s a good time girl whose lost her looks. “She ain’t no English rose.” Her only admirer is the “blind singer, he’s seen enough and he knows.” He serenades her with a song for his “Portobello Belle,” in this tale filled with pathos and cinematic lyrics.
Crystalline guitars weave above the rhythm section on Single Handed Sailor. They set the scene for Mark’s vocal on a poignant song full of social comment. There’s a sense of sadness in his vocal. He’s in a reflective mood, as he remembers the river late at night. No longer is it thriving, no longer is it the heart of the community. Instead, it’s reduced to a tourist attraction, where a lone ship is moored in a dry dock. At night, it’s quiet, except for the “Single Handed Sailor” who goes“sailing away in the dark,” with his memories of Britain before its industrial heart was torn out.
Follow Me Home closes Communiqué, Dire Straits sophomore album. Waves wash against the shore as a Caribbean influence makes its presence felt. Slowly drums play and a guitar chimes in the background. Gradually, it grows in power and volume. It ushers in a menacing bass, as a lazy, laid-back groove unfolds. Mark’s vocal has an equally laid-back sound. He sings of celebration taking shape, and introduces the characters. This includes the woman who captures his heart. Hopefully he sings: “now come on woman, follow me home.” Behind him a mesmeric arrangement unfolds. At its heart are the rhythm section and washes of chiming guitars. They mesmerise and tantalise, leaving you wanting more.
Since its release in June 1978, Communiqué has been a much maligned album. It attracted criticism upon its release. Critics accused Dire Straits of remaking their debut album. That wasn’t the case.
Granted Dire Straits’ record company wanted Communiqué in a hurry. Their eponymous debut album was a huge success. So Vertigo and Warner Bros. were desperate for a new album. They hired Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler to produce Communiqué, and flew Dire Straits to Compass Point Studios. Once there, they spent the next three weeks recording Communiqué. It marked the next chapter in the Dire Straits’ story.
Just like Dire Straits, the music on Communiqué is best described as cinematic. Mark combines social comment, cynicism, humour and pathos. As he introduces a cast of characters, he tells you their story. The story of thrill seekers, the lost, lonely and those that have fallen from grace can be heard on Communiqué. It’s as if Mark’s returned to Glasgow, Newcastle and Leeds, the cities that shaped him and his music. Once there, it’s as if he’s eavesdropped on the stories of ordinary people.
Seamlessly, Mark translates their lives into song. Their lives come to life thanks to Mark and the rest of Dire Straits. They provide the backdrop for Mark’s lived-in, worldweary and sometimes cynical vocal. He augments this was his trademark guitar playing. However, Communiqué isn’t just one man’s work.
Far from it. The rest of Dire Straits get more opportunity to showcase their talents on Communiqué. This allows David Knopfler, Pick Withers and John Illsley to shine, and shine they do. This talented trio were the perfect foil for Mark’s vocal. However, this was the end of the road for one member of Dire Straits.
David Knopfler quit the band after the release of Communiqué. For some time, the relationship between the Knopfler brothers had been tense. Something had to give. In the end, David decided to leave and pursue a solo career. Sadly, he never enjoyed the same commercial success and critical acclaim as a solo artist.
Whether David would’ve left Dire Straits if he had realised the commercial success and critical acclaim that was about to come their way. Maybe when Communiqué didn’t sell as well, he figured that Dire Straits success would be short-lived? That wasn’t the case.
Right through until 1995, Dire Straits were one of the biggest bands in the world. Their next four studio albums and two live album were certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum worldwide. The most success of these albums was
1985s Brothers In Arms. It was certified platinum nine time over in America alone. That marked the beginning of the third chapter in Dire Straits’ career. In 1978, the first chapter was drawing to a close.
The second chapter in the Dire Straits’ story featured 1980s Makin’ Movies and 1982s Love Over Gold. On these two albums, Dire Straits music changed. Their songs became longer. Epics like Tunnel Of Love and Telegraph Road were the perfect showcase for Dire Straits. That was still to come.
The album that closed the first chapter in the Dire Straits story, is their most underrated album Communiqué. For too long Communiqué has been overlooked. Its laid-back, spacious and cinematic sound is sometimes overlooked in favour of Dire Straits, Makin’ Movies, Love Over Gold and Brothers In Arms. That’s a shame, as Communiqué has hidden depths that await discovery. It was also the swansong of the original, and some would say classic, lineup of Dire Straits.
Never again would the original lineup of Dire Straits record together again. if they had, would Dire Straits gone on to surpass their later achievements? That we will never know. What we do know, is that Communiqué is the most underrated album in Dire Straits back-catalogue. Communiqué features that master songsmith Mark Knopfler, and his band of musical brothers making timeless music that thirty-seven years later sounds as good as it did in 1978.
DIRE STRAITS- COMMUNIQUE.