Friday, September 10, 2010

Dire Straits 3: Making Movies

For their make-or-break third album, Dire Straits was down to a trio; Mark Knopfler handled all the guitars, and John Illsley and Pick Withers stuck around to provide the rhythm. But the album they made was hardly stripped down. Recorded at the Power Station in New York City, with Jimmy Iovine (recently hot from Springsteen and Tom Petty) behind the desk and keyboardist Roy Bittan from the E Street Band, Making Movies was a majestic production, cinematic in scope and infinitely satisfying.
The opening strains of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel Waltz” crash into “Tunnel Of Love”, where the familiar “Sultans Of Swing” chugalong is turned inside out and given room to breathe outside the pub. The chorus sends us out into the fairway, amidst excellent metaphors about romance and amusement parks. Things turn a corner for the bridge, which is a mere interlude for the “girl you look so pretty” section, which dominates the rest of the song. A drum-heavy break gives way to a brief solo, then we return to the verse and chorus. But then the lights go out for a repeat of the bridge and the pretty girl section, slowly building over a beautifully constructed solo that plays and plays off the neck, and we fade away over trademark Bittan arpeggios.
“Romeo And Juliet” puts the familiar characters into a more modern setting, with possibly a more realistic twist: what if they didn’t die, and just drifted apart—like many young lovers—after she got sick of him? Besides being incredibly evocative for anyone who’s ever been dumped, the appeal of this song is punctuated by a sly quote from West Side Story. Then, for people of a certain generation, “Skateaway” will bring to mind the music video starring a rollerskater wearing a Walkman. It’s a pretty literal image, transcended by the lyric celebrating rock ‘n roll radio and a chorus right out of New Jersey.
“Expresso Love” sputters to life at the start of side two, its backwards “Layla” riff taking off like a motorcycle, especially over those “Be My Baby” fills in the chorus. By the time the solo happens, there are several guitars vying for space in the mix, and none of them are out of place. The overall effect is, admittedly, stimulating. Things get quiet again on “Hand In Hand”, which mirrors “Romeo And Juliet” both in mood and subject matter, only here the ache isn’t hidden behind a literary allusion, going for a more adult approach. Now that you’re completely depressed, let’s crank it up. “Solid Rock” is one of the greatest records Bob Dylan never made. It absolutely cascades with clever rhymes over a galloping beat, held together by soaring guitar over piano and organ.
The weakest song is saved for last. “Les Boys” takes the movie concept literally, putting the band in the middle of a Teutonic caricature where “glad to be gay” is repeated for shock value. It’s the aural equivalent of the second song you hear over the closing credits, after most people have left the theater.
But that’s okay—it’s not enough of a departure to taint any of that which has gone before. Making Movies is an absolute masterpiece of an album, simple yet complex, and not at all dated.

Dire Straits Making Movies (1980)—5


  1. Wonderful review of a wonderful album, my absolute favourite by the Straits; the precedent two were very likable but this one, as you say, broke into another level... and after that, they never reached so high, not for me at least.
    Salutes from Spain,

  2. Great comment on Solid Rock. Always thought that myself. Mind you, Dylan's Solid Rock is also one of my faves from that error/era. Ooops, better read the Saved review before I commit to that statement. Oh, never mind. I wonder if Mark n' Bob discussed the songs when they got together during the Infidels period.