May 17, 2009

NT's greatest hits, No. 13 (of 34)

Wow, can't believe how long it's been. Another of my favorites songs.
"Tunnel of Love" by Dire Straits

DJ GB once said something interesting: You can see how much the music industry has changed in the past 25 years by looking at Dire Straits. In the mid-'80s, for a time, this band of balding, over-the-hill pasty white guys was the biggest-selling musical act in the world. Granted, they benefited from a gimmicky video, but based on their physical appearance, it just wouldn't happen today. They wanted their MTV, by gum, they got it. Careful what you wish for.

But that's irrelevant when considering the quality of Dire Straits' music, which has often been very high. Mark Knopfler is celebrated as an excellent guitarist, and he is, but at least in his band's early days, he was a world-class songwriter as well. The band's third album, Making Movies, is a really incredible piece of work: a brief but sprawling stumble through disappointed romance, expressed through expert musicianship. Do not, I repeat, do not listen to it on a Tuesday at 4am when your ex-girlfriend hasn't responded to your Facebook message from two weeks ago.

Especially the opening track, the operatic "Tunnel of Love," which is one hell of a heartbreaker. It's basically eight minutes of an amusement park metaphor for easy love and its regretful aftermath—he's "searching through these carousels and carnival arcades/Searching everywhere from Steeplechase to Palisades." For this narrator, love (actually, I think the intention is just sex) is an afternoon on the Waltzer, at the shooting gallery, under the big wheel, riding the Ghost Train. A low ride in the Tunnel of Love.

Sounds goofy, but the band pulls it off with incredible grace; Knopfler's conversational guitar nicely punctuate his plainspoken vocals, which the rhythm section keeps a chugging background groove. The song rocks for a few verses, bounds into a spirited guitar solo, then instantly but smoothly melts into an aching final third, the guitar virtually going off into a crying tantrum. A brilliant synthesis of content, mood and musicianship, and enough to make me never want to go to Coney Island on a first date.

More of NT's greatest hits:
"I Get Around"
"Local Girls"
"Don't Let's Start"
"Suffragette City"
"My Name Is Jonas"
"Mr. Tambourine Man"
"Reelin' in the Years"
"Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover"
"OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"


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