At the outset, I will declare that I am a Mark Knopfler fan. The first time I heard “So Far Away from Me,” I was in love with Knopfler’s distinctive voice and sweetest guitar sound ever.
Brothers in Arms was a humongous success and it spawned a multi-year world tour. In the late 1980’s fans like me in India, didn’t have any idea that by end of the world tour, Dire Straits had broken up. Mark Knopfler was now focused on solo work and film soundtracks, and so were his other band mates like John Illsey. Knopfler also formed another band called The Notting Hillbillies and released an album in 1990.
While I waited for a new Dire Straits album for over 6 years, I had explored their back catalogue. I still remember seeing the On Every Street music cassette at a music shop in 1991 and rushing to buy it. I loved the entire album… Even today after 30 years, listening to the songs “Calling Elvis,” “Planet of New Orleans” – it seems like meeting old friends. The guitar, the saxophone, the poetry, just wow. Over the years I have heard folks say that On Every Street was the work of a band beyond its prime and that the album was a let-down. I would humbly say “Nonsense.”
On Every Street was released in September 1991 and Dire Straits personnel now included Knopfler, Guy Fletcher, John Illsey, and Alan Clark. Guest musicians Vince Gill, Chris White, Jeff Porcaro, and Manu Katche supported them.
Despite Changes, This Was Still Dire Straits
“Calling Elvis” sets the album rolling and it is a rollicking start. Knopfler creates a tribute to Elvis Presley out of a personal anecdote where a friend remarks that trying to reach him is like literally calling Elvis and he also very cleverly plays on Elvis’s song names in his lyrics like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Return to Sender.” The last 3 minutes of the song are pure music heaven, as though the guitar (Knopfler) and drums (Jeff Porcaro) have merged into one.
The title song “On Every Street” starts with Knopfler singing to spare, soft music from guitar, sax, and piano, before leading the band into a pulsating medley at the end. In the past, I remember hearing it as a love song – of course, “It’s your face I am looking for on every street” – right? But now after all these years of listening, it appears that Knopfler has composed a ballad of three segments – starts with a Lover/Parent searching for their beloved “There’s gotta be a record of you someplace,” then a Casanova or Playboy character talks about their conquest “She threw herself under my wheels” and lastly the Lover/Parent expressing their frustration “And you still refused to be traced.” A beautiful composition indeed.
“The Bug” is a high tempo rocker where Knopfler and Vince Gill (guitar, backing vocals) combine to elevate the song to a high while Knopfler sings about the uncertainty of life “Sometimes you are the windshield, Sometimes you are the bug…, Sometimes it all comes together baby, Sometimes you’re going to lose it all. Everything changes in a blink of an eye so let the good times roll before we say goodbye.”
Songwriting Par Excellence
“Heavy Fuel” is an energetic rock song with excellent percussion and guitar work where Knopfler shows off his humor and sarcasm with phrases like “My life makes perfect sense, Lust and food and violence, Sex and money are my major kicks, Get me in a fight I like dirty tricks.”
Knopfler’s songwriting ability is sometimes underappreciated and his lyrics shine through in “Iron Hand.” Here Knopfler narrates the grim story of 1980’s police brutality against striking English coal miners with an acoustic guitar as a backdrop. His lament at the end is worth remembering “The same old fears and the same old crimes, We haven’t changed since ancient times.”
Knopfler gets back to a sarcastic vein with “Ticket to Heaven” and “My Parties” where he pokes fun at televangelists & rich party goers. The conductor George Martin was brought in for “Ticket to Heaven” to create an orchestra-driven slow number.
Now we reach the highlight of the album “Planet of New Orleans” – a hypnotic, haunting ballad that captures the mystique of New Orleans. Dire Straits always have the beautiful saxophone in their songs and this song continues that tradition with Chris White doing memorable work with his saxophone. Manu Katche adds to the atmosphere with his busy percussion.
“How Long” is an easy-on-the-ears country song where Knopfler implores their beloved to accept their love. It is a fitting choice to end the album with a fine Knopfler guitar solo which stays with you long after the album stops playing.
The Band Continued to Evolve Till the End
This final album by Dire Straits is a superb rock & roll composition, influenced by country & jazz music with mature, sensitive songs and ballads (a few ironic/sarcasm laden songs too) and multiple interludes for Knopfler to display his mastery on his guitar. It is different from the earlier Dire Straits work. I would highly recommend On Every Street to all listeners – young or old, first-time or repeat.
“Heavy Fuel” reached No.1 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart.
On Every Street reached the top of the UK Music charts and was certified Platinum by RIAA.
Not many folks realize that Dire Straits are one of the bestselling music artists in the world with over 100 million units of their albums sold.
Dire Straits were the late Princess Diana’s favorite rock band.