Classics Revisited: Dire Straits - 'Love Over Gold'

Dire Straits’ fourth studio album reflected everything that gave Mark Knopfler such a prestigious name: brilliant musicality, beautiful lyricism and, most of all, some iconic guitar.

How come Jesus gets industrial disease?’: this was the question posed to listeners by Mark Knopfler at the end of his politically charged track Industrial Disease. It was one of the many fascinating lyrics that Knopfler created for Love Over Gold, the album that many consider to be Dire Straits’ greatest work. This record embodies everything about Dire Straits. In just five songs, Knopfler takes the listener on an emotionally charged journey, full of wit, aggression, melancholy, and reflection. It is arguably Knopfler’s greatest skill, and whilst many acknowledge his brilliant technical ability as a musician, his writing and lyricism sometimes gets ignored.

Image courtesy of Phil Dent/Redferns.

The album was released at an intriguing time for Dire Straits. As their fourth album, they had already gained some notoriety thanks to the success of their debut single Sultans of Swing, and the success of their first three albums. However, it was before the release of arguably their best-known work, Brothers in Arms, and the household-name reputation that followed. Knopfler had already proved his musical ability with the creation of Sultans of Swing, on which he was complimented by critics for his vocal similarities to Bob Dylan, alongside the unconventionally enchanting guitar work. As well as this, songs such as Romeo and Juliet and Tunnel of Love – from their third album Making Movies gave Knopfler the rightful reputation of being a witty, shrewd storyteller as well as an excellent song creator.

'In just five songs, Knopfler takes the listener on an emotionally charged journey, full of wit, aggression, melancholy, and reflection'.

Yet Love Over Gold took Dire Straits to a new level. While Knopfler was still finding his feet in his earlier work, this record can be pinpointed as the moment he became the completed musician. Knopfler incorporated wildly differing themes, styles, and instruments, yet was able to bring them all together to create one coherent album. The cynical, darkly humorous anthem Industrial Disease greatly contrasts with the progressive rock elements of Private Investigations, yet the different genres blend together into one sublimely produced record.

Knopfler’s ability to convey and illustrate the same theme through radically conflicting musical genres is unparalleled in its class. All of the songs link to the themes of isolation, unemployment, and the limitations of dreams. Knopfler centres the album around these ideas, and in using a wide range of musical styles – from blues rock to jazz – he explores the frustrations and dilemmas of the disenfranchised worker.

Plainly put, Love Over Gold is masterful. It is difficult to describe in detail the sheer brilliance of Telegraph Road, but with it Knopfler redefines and tests the boundaries of rock, incorporating elements of country, jazz and progressive rock – all moulded together into one 14-minute musical masterwork. The record is one of the most unique, stylistically brilliant pieces of work ever produced by Knopfler, but it is defined and commended for its attention to detail. He had the unique ability to ensure that no aspect of the album was wasted or meaningless; every second of it contributes to the stunning portrait that he was effortlessly able to paint.

In challenging his own musical boundaries, Knopfler questioned the definition of brilliance. Some bands are commended for their ability to influence and inspire other musicians. Love Over Gold is not one of those albums, simply because nothing will ever be able to replicate it.