If I were made of music rather than flesh and bones then I would be made of the notes in the Dire Strait’s album Love Over Gold. I love almost every aspect of this album: the utterly astonishing breathtakingly beautiful music; the simple yet sublime lyrics; the electrifying haunting album art. The mood and sentiment in this album is pretty much in sync with how I think and feel much of the time.
The music in this album and the emotion that has been imbued into vinyl and PCM codes by the artists has been inextricably intertwined with the prevailing emotions I was experiencing when I first heard the album on the week it was released in September 1982 (I was in my fifth and final year at high school). Today I cannot tease apart whatever inherent emotion there was in the music from the overlaid emotional signals from my life at the time and the strata of emotions over the 20 years that I have listened to this album.
This album – the first CD I ever bought – has inspired me to live a life of love over gold and mind over matter and it saddens me that I have totally failed to attain such lofty heights. I pay my penance by torturing myself with the thundering guitars, crashing drums, high tempo clattering notes on the piano and haunting whispers. The album art is a perfect match for the music. A bolt of lighting across dark blue clouds soon to be followed by thunder.
The album only has five tracks (three of them passacaglias) but each is a masterpiece and most are quite long and go through several phases of varying amplitude and tempo. The first track Telegraph Road has me in tears by 1 minute and 31 seconds as the plucks of the electric guitar mimic rain, and the impeding storm, which finally arrives at 1 minute 33 seconds, is followed by a more emphatic beat at 1 minute and 48 seconds. At a literal level the lyrics of this song tell the story of the growth and demise of a town (Detroit) and feelings of loneliness (tick), the despair of unemployment (tick), the anger of poverty (tick) and hurt of fading love (tick). My favourite lyrics from it are “six lanes of traffic / three lanes moving slow” which perhaps reminds me too much of the view of the M8 at Charing Cross in Glasgow at rush hour (see the back of Deacon Blue’s Raintown album for the picture – and yes – my website is named after this album). In today’s UK there are many lines in this song that still have relevance: “I got a right to go to work but there’s no work here to be found / Yes and they say we’re gonna have to pay what’s owed / We’re gonna have to reap from seed that’s been sowed.” At 9 minutes and 33 seconds, after the last lyrics the track enters into the thunderous spellbinding closing instrumental crescendo. It’s a riot of guitars, drums and Alan Clark’s piano with one main guitar matched with two counterpoint guitars. Surely the Fender Stratocaster is due to an act of divine intervention.
The second track is the haunting and sinister Private Investigations, about the disillusionment and bitterness of a betrayed lover. Knopfler speaks rather than sings through this track over guitars and the piano and light percussion with allusions to horror stories and poetry of Edgar Allen Poe and specifically the Tales of Mystery and Imagination collection (think Alan Parsons’ Project). There is an excellent interplay between Knopfler’s acoustic guitar and a marimba. “A bottle of whisky and a new set of lies / Blinds in the windows and a pain behind the eyes.”
In the third and fast paced track Industrial Disease Knopfler also talks, and again many of the lyrics still seem pertinent today: “Two men say they’re Jesus / One of them must be wrong / … / They wanna have a war to keep their factories / They wanna have a war to stop us buying Japanese / … / They’re pointing out the enemy to keep you deaf and blind / … / Meanwhile the first Jesus says “I’d cure it soon” / Abolish Monday mornings and Friday afternoons / The other one’s on a hunger strike / He’s dying by degrees.” This track continues the theme of crashing thundering guitars.
The fourth track Love Over Gold is the most beautiful and spellbinding and the most blues influenced. I love the vibraphone especially at the end of the track which sounds positive and uplifting and cheery in contrast to the dark nature of the song. In addition to the music I am entranced by the simple lyrics like “When the things that you hold / Can fall and be shattered / Or run through your fingers like dust.”
The final track It Never Rains starts off in a very Dylan-esque manner and is the only track that initially sounds like it belongs on one of the earlier Dire Straits albums. However, it quickly adopts the dark themes shared with all the other tracks on the album. The track climaxes in a frenzy of twanging eclectic guitars and drums and precision which when it fades leaves me in an emotionally exhausted heap on the sofa. The only antidote I know is to play the album again.
Dire Straits will forever be remembered for Brothers in Arms which was released in a fanfare of DDD digital glory. However, the quality of recording and production on analogue Love Over Gold is exceptional and still outshines many modern fully digitally recorded pop/rock albums (the same is true for Roxy Music’s Avalon). Each instrument is clearly discernable from the quietest passages to the most thunderous spells of rapture. This is one of the albums I still listen to from start to finish without interruption in a dark room at the highest volume my wife and neighbours will tolerate. I find it more exhilarating than a rollercoaster ride.