Mark Knopfler’s hit the ground running across the last two decades, a mature solo artist keen to leave his former band in the dust. He had dozens of side-projects and producer-roles and soundtrack contributions under his belt before he released his first solo set of songs. Now he’s lapped Dire Straits as lone singer/songwriter and good on him for never stopping to collect that “Fuck You” money that would so obviously be granted if he went out on the road under the Dire Straits banner once again. No, no need to collect that money…far more interested in continuing to pass Go, to keep on, erm, tracking…to keep on going…
Tracker isn’t as big as Privateering, nor as stark nor as bold. Where Privateering had hints of the Celtic hues and little jazz dust that Knopfler collects up (each time he passes Go?) but was more about the songs than styles, Tracker is more overtly a return to those in-between Knopfler albums, the ones that never quite hit it right out of the park but are dependable, thoughtful, quite lovely. So no, this isn’t quite Golden Heart or The Ragpicker’s Dream or Privateering but it is (more) like Sailing to Philadelphia, Shangri-La, Kill To Get Crimson and Get Lucky.
That’s possibly six of one, half dozen the other – but what it says is how thoroughly dependable Knopfler’s been as a solo artist, how uninterested he is in further any sort of “Guitar Hero” cause and how hopeful and dedicated he’s been in the songwriting role.
Here’s a craftsman hard at work. And making more sense as he keeps going, as the miles pile up, as the albums continue to arrive.
Tracker is instantly familiar even if it takes a while for anything approaching one of Knopfler’s truly great songs. But that mournful guitar tone is there in the lovely, longing intro to Mighty Man, the purloined J.J. Cale chug shuffles into place across Broken Bones, and we get something closer to the sounds of Dire Straits here – oddly – than on any of his other solo albums. You have to listen for it, have to have done the listening before perhaps, but Lights of Taormina is an older, wiser head re-purposing the groove of Water of Love and on standout first single, Beryl, Knopfler straight-up jumps back into the Dire Straits guitar-drums dance.
So there are bigger, stronger hints of that band and its sound. Always and forever a part of Knopfler’s sound, but never so overtly referenced.
Still, it’s the moments when Knopfler places the song first that stand boldest, as on the gorgeous Silver Eagle. Here is where in his own mercurial way he’s done what Van Morrison did, made a distinct form of song (and songwriting) that is Celtic-influenced but never part of the “brand”.
Tracker is too polished for some, no doubt. Too “Mark Knopfler” for many, obviously. But again they’re missing out. Here’s one of the most consistent singer/songwriters of the last two decades, forget the (often magical) work he served up before he ‘went solo’…well, I’m not sure why you’d do that, but forgive him of the baggage that material seems to come with.
Tracker is smooth, too smooth for some, but it’s lovely. The polish, as always, leads to a handful of gems.