The previous two Dire Straits albums sport a sublime mix of storytelling and atmospherics, and were much bigger overseas than in America. Whether or not it was a conscious decision, Brothers In Arms tells few stories and buries the few melodies in contemporary mush from a pile of session cats augmenting what used to be a tight little combo. And the lyrics, previously worthy of the pen of a former English teacher, sound dashed off. Despite all this, it sold by the bucketful for the next two years, usually to people with new CD players. (It was also one of the first albums to take advantage of the extended CD playing time, with most tracks longer on cassette and disc than the record. That’s not always a good thing.)
“So Far Away” is mostly inoffensive, if a bit simple, but “Money For Nothing” got all the attention, thanks to its recognizable riff, Sting vocal and early anti-MTV stance. “Walk Of Life” took that grating accordion phrase to endless ESPN highlights reels. “Your Latest Trick” expands on the smooth jazz leanings of the previous album with too much saxophone. “Why Worry” would have been one of the slighter songs on the earlier albums, but here it stands out for its unobtrusiveness.
Side two is concerned with world events and social commentary: “Ride Across The River” and “The Man’s Too Strong” are intriguing enough, but “One World” kills the mood with its dopey arrangement and dopier words (or lack thereof). The title track is a pretty depressing way to finish it all off.
Brothers In Arms was an unlikely candidate for the arena-rock champion of the year, and we’re still not sure how it happened. It has not aged well (mostly because of the DX7 synth effects everywhere) and the hits tend to get lumped in with the usual “hey, remember the ‘80s?” suspects. It’s really too bad, considering how above-average Dire Straits had once been.
The album also fits into our flimsy theory of The First Four, in which a band’s initial four albums follow this pattern:
1) the striking debut, catching all the attention and putting the pressure on;
2) the forced follow-up, usually written on the fly and criticized as a retread;
3) the make-or-break statement of purpose, which takes them into the stratosphere;
4) “we’ve been to the mountaintop, and this is what we saw there”
And after that, the fifth album can confound or please the listener. It’s not a perfect system, but possible demonstrations include R.E.M, U2, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and Toad The Wet Sprocket. (One day we’ll have it all worked out.)
Dire Straits Brothers In Arms (1985)—2½