Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Leftovers (Down): Down to the Waterline

Dire Straits: Down to the Waterline


Dire Straits burst on the scene in 1979 with a combination of literary lyrics and incendiary playing. Sultans of Swing seemed to introduce Mark Knopfler as the newest guitar god, so some listeners probably overlooked the fact that the song also invoked a powerful sense of place, and sketched memorable characters in just a few lines of lyric. Down to the Waterline was the followup single, and the guitar playing here is still pretty fiery. But the song is also a powerful reminder of Knopfler’s talent with words. This time, the song describes a series of passionate stolen moments with a strong sense of the here and now. But the last verse reveals that these were a series of memories, despite their immediacy. That shift in perspective is a feature that is often found in the short stories of the masters, and Knopfler does it with only as many words as are absolutely needed.

Over the years, Knopfler would show that he had no desire to be a guitar god. He is still widely admired by his fellow players, but the fireworks disappeared starting with the third Dire Straits album, Making Movies. The literary quality of his lyrics, however, was a constant, first with the rest of the Dire Straits albums, and then throughout Knopfler’s later career as a solo artist. Even a song like Money For Nothing, with its lowbrow narrator, is a powerful evocation of character. All of that talent as a writer was on display from the beginning, and Down to the Waterline is a fine example.

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