Dire Straits’ typically overlooked Communique is an understated gem

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When I originally picked up a used copy of Communiqué, I actually shelved it for a while after realizing I just wasn’t all that in the mood for Dire Straits at the time. I’d been enamored of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing for a while, but nevertheless had taken the slow route when getting into Dire Straits.

There’s something too iconic about the Brothers in Arms material, specifically the way overplayed “Money for Nothing,” complete with its “I want my MTV” tag — two elements that instantly drive me away from albums, if not bands. Overexposure is my enemy, having destroyed relationships with music I have loved but with which I shared a more fragile connection. There aren’t many songs that will survive this unfortunate side effect of a band achieving sudden, widespread fame, but once in a while I manage to not let it get to me.

The Shins, for example, may never be overexposed for me. I love their music and while Garden State threatened to topple the beautiful friendship we’d forged, what with the whole “they’ll change your life!” BS, I managed to ignore it. I simply put their two (at the time) albums away for a while and let it blow over.

It’s harder, however, to encounter something that had long ago reached icon status, such as Dire Strait’s aforementioned “Money for Nothing,” and not instantly stamp the entire band’s output with the feelings associated with that one song. It became a kind of soundtrack for exactly the opposite kind of crowd than the song was written for — the story of an “everyday joe” type dreaming of achieving fame and success — when the yuppie-types in the 1980s latched onto the song, if not the band, as somehow representative of themselves, and completely ignored the message behind the song.

So, when I crumbled to Mark Knopfler’s charms, it was via his then-new solo releases, not Dire Straits, whose music I continued to resist. It was stumbling upon “Sultans of Swing” that did it, however.

That familiar Knopfler twang rings out throughout the song and carries us through to one of the finest guitar solos I have ever heard — a real “goosebumps because it’s so powerful and emotional” kind of moment. Live at the BBC found its way into my collection, followed quickly by the self-titled first album, much of which is found on BBC. And then it was Making Movies, and then Communiqué, released on June 15, 1979.

Even so, Communiqué had to remain on the shelf for a little while, not because of a fear that the overexposed Dire Straits I used to fear would rear its head, but simply because music like this takes the right circumstances to come to life for a listener like me. Many albums I can hear and appreciate, but it takes that special moment, and a certain spontaneity, for some things to really click. Finally, that day arrived for Communiqué, a moment where I was able to hear it without the fog of expectation hanging over me, and it was able to reveal itself as an album full of the delicate subtleties that make Mark Knopfler shimmer — that deep tobacco-soaked voice, the quick, fluid guitar, and the wit behind many of his lyrics.

Knopfler possesses the too-often-ignored ability to understate just the right elements and come out with something that knocks attentive listeners on their asses. It’s a gift that has never been overly abundant in popular music, but when it’s discovered, it’s a rich, abundant source of beauty. Dire Straits’ Communiqué is precisely that kind of album. It has the reputation of being one of the lesser Dire Straits offerings, and yet, it seems, for the right listeners, this album ascends to status of “favorite.” I may start considering myself one of those listeners.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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  • Charlie Ricci

    Mark Knopfler is my all time favorite guitar player. Even on Brothers in Arms he’s outstanding. You shouldn’t write off the entire album based on the hits. Side 2 is wonderful, it’s his thoughts on governments and war, not something that will ever be overplayed on radio. Just because something is overplayed doesn’t make it bad. Sometimes music gets a lot of exposure because it’s good. If you want to hear the man at his peak seek out the soundtrack to Local Hero and the 3rd & 4th Dire Straits albums, Making Movies and Love Over Gold. Both are better than Communique, which is by no means a bad album.

  • josephdavies

    I have to argue with the entire premise of this post. Sultans of Swing was a huge, overplayed hit for Dire Straits well before Money For Nothing. And they had several FM hits between them. MFN was actually a bit of a come back song for DS. And Brothers In Arms is not “iconic” IMO.

  • lmfao

    Communique is the second album…Making Movies was the third.

  • jzsnake

    Hard to go wrong with anything Mark Knopfler is involved in.

    • grimreaper46

      +1

  • grimreaper46

    I agree “Communique” was somewhat dismissed as the archetypal sophomore album. The fact that the record company released “Lady Writer” as the first single just because it sounded the most like “Sultans..” didn’t help either when there are so many better tracks. People then said “Making Movies” put the band back on track (pun not intended). It never went off track. “Communique” may be a subtle album but is still a fine piece of music just needing true appreciation.

    Mark’s solo music devides a lot of people. That is because people expect Dire Straits music. MK however didn’t stand still. The modern songs are full of story telling and a more folkie type base. The last two albums are brilliant but definately NOT Dire Straits.

    At the concert this year the quality of the song writing and the bands musicianship is outstanding. However I read some people complaining that “Too many songs were from the new album “Tracker” and not enough from the DS days. Well please note this was “The Tracker Tour” and even then MK and the band played half a dozen or so DS related songs. You can satisfy some…….

  • WOP333

    Communique is a top shelf album. I still listen to it often. The guitar work is fantastic and every song sets a mood. I would love a Dire Straights reunion tour with them performing this album and Making Movies.

  • David R Cooke

    I saw DS on the Communique tour and they were as boring as it gets. People were laughing at them. They seemed to be one trick ponies. I gave up on them. Then I heard Love Over Gold. Utterly brilliant. I was knocked out by it. 10/10.

    • Preston Frazier

      Love Over Gold is Brilliant! I wish I saw Pick Withers live though I was impressed by Terry Williams. They seemed bored on the OES tour.

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