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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