The fifth studio album for Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms has a decorated history. It is the seventh best-selling album in UK charts history and won two Grammy Awards in 1985: Best Rock Performance by a Group with Vocal for ‘Money for Nothing’ and Best Engineered Recording, Non Classical for the full album. Sting also appears on the record as a guest artist.
Brothers In Arms – An Appreciation
Looked at now with 20/20 vision of hindsight, the image on the sleeve of Brothers In Arms seems uncannily prophetic: that National steel guitar heading up into the clouds – a shiny 6 stringed rocket devoid of any obvious means of propulsion – describes, better than any words can, what happened to Dire Straits after the release of their 5th studio album. Up till the summer of 1985 success had, for them, come as a by-product of the music making process. They had never courted celebrity, chased fads or played safe. Dire Straits had been loved and respected as one of the few bands to have maintained strong and credible links with the multifarious roots of rock and roll at time – remember all the desperate pop posing of the early 80’s? – when roots were emphatically not a fashionable place to be.
At first hearing, Brothers In Arms didn’t sound like an album which was going to storm the barricades of global popular taste, much less one which would establish itself as the UK’s biggest selling album of all time. And there lay the surprising beauty of it. Where others shouted this album talked. Having little in the way of front, it offered instead a world of interiors. It opened not with a bang but with a gently ticking hi-hat and it faded away, 9 tracks later, on a defiantly untriumphant wash of moody keyboards and achy, echoey guitar. Many of the songs in between were quiet, reflective, sombre even: the soldierly themes contained in the title track, or “The Man’s Too Strong” or again in “Ride Across The River” were tinged with regret and remorse. The love songs were apt to begin and end in disappointment, with Mark Knopfler grumbling down the phone in a lonely hotel room or disconsolately reviewing a late night encounter with someone he hardly met. Like the sleeve again, the album was predominantly blue in tone.
Life being what it is, Brothers In Arms soon became celebrated for its lighter moments, notably the big hits “Money For Nothing” and “Walk Of Life”. Both of these tracks have intriguing behind-the-scenes tales to tell. Knopfler’s ode to blue collar dreams, “Money for Nothing”, eventually ended up with Sting singing the catchy “I want my MTV” refrain. The then lead singer of The Police happened to be on holiday nearby and received an invitation to contribute, which he did to great effect. “Walk Of Life” nearly didn’t make it as an album track at all but co-producer Neil Dorfsman was out-voted by the band, thereby ensuring that an album etched with several varieties of sadness also contained one of the most uplifting tunes Knopfler has ever written. Now wonder the world found, and continues to find this such an irresistible package.
– Robert Sandell (from the liner notes for the 20th anniversary edition of Brothers In Arms)