Mark Knopfler and Co. Leave the Job Half-Done : ** 1/2 DIRE STRAITS “On Every Street” <i> Warner Bros.</i>
After waiting six years to follow up Dire Straits’ 1985 blockbuster “Brothers in Arms,” Mark Knopfler gets it half right. The opening six songs of “On Every Street” (in stores now) form a cohesive, haunting half-hour meditation on loss and unfulfilled yearning that would have made a great EP. As for the rest, well, he’s the one who said rock ‘n’ roll was money for nothing.
The first side stakes out its own dreamscape world, with a loamy steel-and-dobro-guitar sound suspended atop a shimmering haze of keyboards and strings. The sequence cuts deep, as Knopfler’s characters wander a ghostly aural landscape looking for something that’s always out of reach.
One wry but desperate figure wonders whether illumination lies in joining pop’s foremost cult of the dead (“Calling Elvis”). The title track’s searcher grasps at fleeting clues until an elegiac instrumental coda rises up in a sad benediction for his unfulfilled, unending quest. This restless, motion-filled series of songs (lots of train rhythms) ends in stasis and dark portents as a wounded protagonist waits for an old nemesis to appear in the brooding “You and Your Friend.”
The spell breaks rudely with “Heavy Fuel,” a leaden sound-alike sequel to “Money for Nothing,” redone from a dissipated rock star’s point of view (the character is a charmless substitute for the original’s sardonic working schmo).
It’s only the first of several ham-fisted attempts at Randy Newman-style ironic monologue that derail the second half. Unlike Newman, who fleshes out his victims and makes them imposingly wrongheaded, Knopfler sets up straw targets for satire and gracelessly hacks them apart. After what’s gone before, it’s a maddeningly trivial pursuit.