I must admit, and I suspect this will be the same for many lapsed fans, I've been quietly looking forward to owning this wee sleeketh of a timorous beastie. And its current October 2020 price somewhere south of seventeen English squid will make it another huge seller for the wonderful songwriting chops of MARK KNOPFLER and DIRE STRAITS - a band that has always been slated but beloved (and with good reason) by millions.
What you have here is a reissue of the November 2013 8LP VINYL Box Set – itself mastered and pressed by three giants in the field of Audio reproduction – BOB LUDWIG, BERNIE GRUNDMAN and CHRIS BELLMAN. For Friday, 9 October 2020 we get a repress of that vinyl set, but this time Universal also includes the CD variant for the first time as a Limited Edition (albeit it appears with newly mastered versions of the 1996 remasters). As with the 2013 vinyl box set reissue, both "Brothers In Arms" and "On Every Street" are extended into double-albums to handle the longer playing time (initial 1985 and 1991 pressings were single LPs).
Which Remasters for CD though? Confusingly – there is no mention of the words "Digitally Remastered" anywhere – not on the hype sticker on the shrink-wrap - nor the box – not on the Mini LP sleeves with their inner lyric sleeves now tucked into the singular cards as oversized foldout posters – nor on the CDs themselves. The cards say copyright 1996 and 2020 – yet on re-listening to all of them today – they seem bigger and better than the 1996 versions. I could just be me, but I swear there is better mastering here. "Communiqué" and "Tunnel Of Love" are both gorgeous given a bit of welly on the volume button.
With the exception of "Brothers In Arms" which has had numerous anniversary and format reissues (SACD etc) and the first two Seventies records which have received expensive Platinum SHM-CD variants in Japan - the bulk of the others haven't been touched on CD since the June 1996 Remasters series. This 6-Disc set will be a way of getting great audio for the lot and it comes with Mini LP Repro Art Card Sleeves that we old farts worship at the smelly feet of.
There are a lot of brothers with arms, swinging sultans and gold that is over love to get through, so let's have at it...
UK released Friday, 9 October 2020 - "The Studio Albums 1978-1991" by DIRE STRAITS on Mercury/Vertigo/UMC 0839136 / 00602508391361 (Barcode 602508391361) is a 6CD Clamshell Mini Box Set of 1996 Remasters that plays out as follows:
CD1 Mercury 0841080 "Dire Straits" (41:52 minutes):
1. Down To The Waterline [Side 1]
2. Water Of Love
3. Setting Me Up
4. Six Blade Knife
5. Southbound Again
6. Sultans Of Swing [Side 2]
7. In The Gallery
8. Wild West End
Tracks 1 to 9 are their debut album "Dire Straits" – released June 1978 in the UK on Vertigo 9102 021 and October 1978 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3266
CD2 Mercury 0841081 - "Communiqué" (42:44 minutes):
1. Once Upon A Time In The West [Side 1]
3. Where Do You Think You're Going?
5. Angel Of Mercy [Side 2]
6. Portobello Belle
7. Single-Handed Sailor
8. Follow Me Home
Tracks 1 to 9 are their second album "Communiqué" – released September 1979 in the UK on Vertigo 9102 031 and June 1979 in the USA on Warner Brothers HS 3330.
CD3 Mercury 0841083 - "Making Movies" (38:30 minutes):
1. Carousel Waltz Intro / Tunnel Of Love [Side 1]
2. Romeo And Juliet
4. Expresso Love [Side 2]
5. Hand In Hand
6. Solid Rock
7. Les Boys
Tracks 1 to 7 are their third album "Making Movies" – released October 1980 in the UK on Vertigo 6359 034 and November 1980 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3480
CD4 Mercury 0841085 - "Love Over Gold" (41:12 minutes):
1. Telegraph Road [Side 1]
2. Private Investigations
3. Industrial Disease [Side 2]
4. Love Over Gold
5. It Never Rains
Tracks 1 to 5 are their fourth studio album "Love Over Gold" – released September 1982 in the UK on Vertigo 6359 109 and September 1982 in the USA on Warner Brothers 9 23728-1
CD5 Mercury 0841078 - "Brothers In Arms" (55:15 minutes):
1. So Far Away (5:11 minutes *) – Side 1
2. Money For Nothing (8:26 minutes *)
3. Walk Of Life (4:12 minutes)
4. Your Latest Trick (6:33 minutes *)
5. Why Worry (8:31 minutes *)
6. Ride Across The River (6:58 minutes *) – Side 2
7. The Man's Too Strong (4:40 minutes)
8. One World (3:40 minutes)
9. Brothers in Arms (7:00 minutes *)
Tracks 1 to 9 are their fifth album "Brothers In Arms" – released May 1985 in the UK on Vertigo VERH 25 and May 1985 in the USA on Warner Brothers 9 25264-1.
* NOTE: launched the year prior, the CD format was making huge inroads into format sales in 1985 and this album was one of the reasons why. The vinyl version had shorter tracks as follows:
Side 1: So Far Away (4:04 minutes) / Money For Nothing (7:00 minutes) / Walk Of Life (4:10 minutes) / Your Latest Trick (4:49 minutes) / Why Worry (5:16 minutes)
Side 2: Ride Across The River (6:59 minutes) / The Man's Too Strong (4:40 minutes) / One World (3:40 minutes) / Brothers in Arms (6:49 minutes)
The CD took advantage of longer playing time as can be seen from the timings supplied above with Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 9 being extended versions, some considerably longer than the LP cuts. This CD Remaster uses the extended versions.
CD6 Mercury 0841086 - "On Every Street" (60:35 minutes):
1. Calling Elvis [Side 1]
2. On Every Street
3. When It Comes To You
4. Fade To Black
5. The Bug
6. You And Your Friend
7. Heavy Fuel [Side 2]
8. Iron Hand
9. Ticket To Heaven
10. My Parties
11. Planet Of New Orleans
12. How Long
Tracks 1 to 12 are their sixth and final studio album "On Every Street" – released September 1991 in the UK on Vertigo 510 160-1 and September 1991 in the USA on Warner Brothers 9 26680-1. The CD variant of this album has the same playing times on all tracks as the vinyl LP – the CD catalogue numbers have -2 at the end of each instead of -1.
The core band featured Mark Knopfler, David Knopfler, John Illsley and Pick Withers initially with Alan Clark, Hal Lindes, Guy Fletcher, Omar Hakim and Terry Williams, Danny Cummings, Paul Franklin, Phil Palmer and Chris White joining proceedings along the way. And then there are those contributions from guests like Barry Beckett, Roy Bittan of The E Street Band, Mike Mainieri, Sting, Vince Gill, Jeff Porcaro of Toto and Manu Katche of Peter Gabriel’s Band.
The fold-out posters (as they are calling them) is a smart idea so you can actually read the lyrics and musician credits – the only spoiler being "Brothers In Arms" has that type-face that is just so difficult to make out (it is also the only CD that keeps its picture original design – the others are all plain black).
As the 1978 debut opens with that foghorn in the distance, you may have to give "Down To The Waterline" a bit of volume but there is no doubting how clean the transfer is. If I'm perfectly honest, the Japanese Platinum SHM-CD from September 2013 that I bought and reviewed (see separate entry) has more depth and clarity, but that is the only disc I felt a wee-bit lacking of the six. And even then "Sultans Of Swing" will still rock your speakers.
By the time you get to 1979 and "Communiqué" – the Production values are quite simply incredible. "Tunnel Of Love" and "Love Over Gold" are the same. But what a Box set like this does is to allow you to revisit those album nuggets that never made singles – the stunning sexy funk of "Six Blade Knife" and gritty edge of "In The Gallery" from the explosive debut – onto beauty like "Portobello Belle" and the razor-sharp acoustic guitars of "Where Do You Think You're Going?" on "Communiqué". Over on Side 2 of "Making Movies" is "Hand In Hand" - another oh so pretty Knopfler love song where his way with a ballad always moves me whilst groove lovers can flip back to Side 1 for the sheer Rock Funk of "Skateaway".
I was watching fan posts of gigs in 2015 and 2019 where MK and his huge band tackle "Telegraph Road" and again – you forget about the sheer musical majesty contained within its thirteen and half minutes. "Private Investigations" still amazes with its combo of keyboard delicacy and big mickey guitar bombast. The extended "Your Latest Trick" on the CD of "Brothers In Arms" makes mincemeat of the seriously edited LP version and I love that slink in "Ride Across The River" as it opens Side 2 of that 1985 behemoth. Sometimes you're the Louisville slugger in "The Bug" – one of the better tracks on a hugely underwhelming final album "On Every Street". But no concerns whatsoever about either the mega "Brothers In Arms" or "On Every Street" albums here – the audio on both CDs is sensational.
Like the superbly comprehensive 6CD November 2019 mini clamshell Box Set "Every Move You Make" by THE POLICE - you do wish Universal had gone just a wee step further and included those rare DS 45-stragglers – the non-album "Eastbound Train (Live)" on the flipside of "Sultans Of Swing" or the hilarious "Badges, Posters, Stickers, T-shirts" on the B-side of "Private Investigations", the "Twisting By The Pool EP" with "If I Had You" and so on. And maybe a booklet with liner notes, photos, reissue credits that clarify.
There will be those who say that this Universal CD variant is lazy, a missed opportunity and a mistake not to have CLEARLY upgraded the audio on the whole kit and caboodle – and frankly Frank - they would be right on all fronts. But that not withstanding - I suspect this dinky little retro set will make its way into many Covid-Free Christmas Stockings for Xmas 2020 with few complaints amongst recipients.
I saw DIRE STRAITS live in Ireland twice – once with the four piece for "Communiqué" at The National Stadium when they were just becoming big - and then with the extended band (keyboards and saxophones added) for the "Love Over Gold" tour in a wet and windy outdoor racecourse. They got more than four encores on each occasion – the crowds at both utterly amazed at the sheer musicality on display over the hours. It's the same here really. A proper little crowd pleaser and pick-me-up...