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Over the past 12 years -- and five solo albums -- Mark Knopfler has retooled his image as Dire Straits' frontman and stepped comfortably into the role of musical storyteller. Since dissolving the band in 1995, he has taken his career in fascinating new directions that couldn't have been predicted and are impossible to ignore.
Kill To Get Crimson, his latest effort, continues this evolution. On All the Roadrunning, last year's stunning collaborative album with Emmylou Harris, Knopfler explored the many facets of a couple's shared life spanning several years. Whereas that disc felt like the musical equivalent of poring over a family photo album, Crimson feels more like a diverse collection of short stories. The one thing that connects them is Knopfler's inimitable guitar playing and gentle, graveled baritone -- and that is more than enough.
This album is packed with touching tales and riveting personalities. He starts with a love song -- "True Love Will Never Fade" -- that manages to feel both hopeful and world-weary at the same time. Like much of the disc, it is a slow and thoughtful ballad, and Knopfler paints such vivid imagery with his words that the pictures seem to appear before one's eyes.
On "The Scaffolder's Wife" he paints a portrait of a fading woman losing her battle to cling to both her money and her looks; on "Madame Geneva's," a street musician plays for pennies that he spends on gin. "Behind With The Rent" is just as grim, telling the story of a man doing whatever it takes to scrape together the monthly rent. None of these tales are designed to fill you with cheer, but Knopfler's ragged velvet voice tells them in such a compelling manner that you want to sit still and listen.
He is at his best when he makes the stories personal. "Heart Full Of Holes" paints him in the role of a time-battered everyman, a bartender who listens to the secrets and scandals of his customers. He realizes that, despite his flaws and foibles, his life hasn't been completely lived in vain. The song is both sad and soothing, which makes for an interesting collision of emotions.
"Secondary Waltz" paints one of the most vivid portraits on the album. His portrayal of 12-year-old boys being (begrudgingly) taught to dance by an ex-Army officer comes to life through his words and music. The music is appropriately lilting and Knopfler's story of terrified adolescents brings a smile -- if not a few junior high flashbacks.
The outstanding "Punish The Monkey" is unlike any of the other tracks. It's another workingman's tale, but unlike the others, it feels more universal than personal. This is the kind of song the world expected from the man behind "Money for Nothing," and Knopfler doesn't disappoint. This story about a loyal worker taking the fall while the boss walks away unscathed is summed up with his line, "Punish the monkey, let the organ grinder go."
While Roadrunning had an Americana feel, Crimson is flavored with English, Scottish and Gaelic influences -- when's the last time you heard an American song mention a crumpet? -- but it proves that ragged dreams are a universal theme. These reflections aren't necessarily feel-good stories -- but they are mesmerizing and, in Knopfler's hands, they're delightful.
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|Number of Discs:||1|
|Shipping Weight (in pounds):||0.2|
|Product in Inches (L x W x H):||0.37 x 4.25 x 5.25|
|1.||True Love Will Never Fade|
|3.||Fizzy and the Still|
|4.||Heart Full of Holes|
|5.||We Can Get Wild|
|7.||Punish the Monkey|
|8.||Let It All Go|
|9.||Behind with the Rent|
|10.||Fish and the Bird|
|12.||In the Sky|
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