f you own a radio, chances are you’ve heard bits of Dire Straits‘ eighth album, ‘on every street‘ (they didn’t capitalize it; who am I to correct them?) ‘Calling Elvis’, ‘The Bug’, and ‘Heavy Fuel’ were all heard on commercial radio here in San Diego.
If you don’t own the album, chances are you haven’t heard some of Mark Knopfler’s best writing, and, just as important, arranging.
Dire Straits usually includes at least one longish tune on their albums. ‘on every street’ has three, all of them better examples of what a longer pop tune should be. While I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, Knopfler’s longer songs tend to be more directed, less rambling. Maintaining direction and focus for longer than the traditional three-minute pop tune requires a certain understanding of musical arrangement. Knopfler has it.
The longest cut on the album is the penultimate track, “Planet of New Orleans.” A dream image of a meeting, the consummation of which we’re not privy to, Knopfler allows the saxophone to share the stage throughout, as he’s done on many Dire Straits tracks.
Opening with a slick slidey echoey guitar and some quiet electric piano, the song has a frequent feeling of something mechanical happening in the background; the kind of misplaced-but-perfect percussion we often hear in movie soundtracks. This movie, I like.
None of the guitar solos are guitar-god material, just good solid playing. Mark leaves plenty of room for fellow lutist Guy Fletcher, with a recurring undercurrent of steel guitar added by Paul Franklin.
‘New Orleans’ is arranged well. As one solo ends, the next feels almost inevitable, as if nothing else could have belonged there. The verses are long, the chorus short; the vocals feel more like another instrument, part of the orchestra, than the ‘singing’ part of a rock song. Building from the mysterious, subtle beginning to a large conclusion, ‘Planet of New Orleans’ is worth visiting.
She took me back to her courtyard where magnolia perfume screams behind the gates and the granite of the planet of New Orleans