Dire Straits may not have stuck around for long, but no one can say they didn’t make the most of the time they had. Over the course of just six albums, they established themselves as the biggest band of the 1980s, spending over 1100 weeks in the UK album charts (the fifth-longest of any group, ever), selling over 100 million albums, and convincing hundreds of millions of people around the world of the virtues of pup rock. Here’s how we rank all the Dire Straits albums from worst to best.
After their glorious debut, Communique never really stood a chance. The second album was always going to be compared to the first and unless Dire Straits performed a minor miracle and pulled two seminal albums out of the bag in a row, those comparisons were never going to be kind. And they really weren’t. Communique got slated to within an inch of its life, with Jonathan Daümler-Ford of The Birmingham Daily Post saying that “the songs sound like pale imitations, or the cuts which were not good enough for Dire Straits” and All Music saying it “seemed little more than a carbon copy of its predecessor with less compelling material.” With the benefit of hindsight, it’s not nearly as bad as everyone made out. Sure, it sounds rushed (which it was, released within just 10 months of their debut), and it’s certainly the easiest of the band’s albums to overlook. But it’s still a pleasant enough album, with a few cuts (Lady Writer, Where Do You Think You’re Going? and Once Upon a Time in the West, in particular) deserving a lot more praise than they ever came close to getting.
5. On Every Street
Dire Straits went out with less of a bang than a whimper. Considering the strength of their introduction, there was never really any hope that their farewell would be as strong, and On Every Street wasn’t. Released just six years after their incendiary debut, the band sounds like a pale shadow of its former self. As thegreatalbums.com says, by that time, grunge had started to explode and everything that had been big in the ’80s (including the band’s sound) was starting to feel passe. But the problem is less the changing times and more the rudderless direction of the album. Mark Knopfler sounds like he doesn’t know if he’s making the next Brothers in Arms or something that wouldn’t sound out of place in Nashville. It just doesn’t work, and while there are certainly some great songs tucked away between the covers (not to mention some wonderfully focused playing), the album as a whole fails to gel.
4. Love Over Gold
Some people really don’t get Love Over Gold. Other people think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, there’s no denying it’s the band’s most ambitious album. Knopfler seems to have decided to give up any idea of chasing chart success, eschewing anything even vaguely radio-friendly for lengthy epics like the 14-minute long Telegraph Road. He’d done long songs before on Making Movies, but they were sandwiched between radio-ready anthems. Here, they’re relentless. Even Industrial Disease, the closest the album gets to a conventional pop hit, has far too many minutes and way too many words to get any decent airplay. There are no real hooks, precious few grooves, and yet, somehow, it works. Wonderfully. Ultimate Classic Rock hit the nail on the head by calling it their most intricate and exquisite album. It’s challenging, for sure, but persevere – the rewards are worth it.
3. Dire Straits
There’s not very much that can be said about Dire Straits’ 1978 debut that hasn’t been said already. It was an album that changed rock while being entrenched in it. Completely ignoring what was happening in the charts (punk and disco, if you weren’t around), the band looked to folk, country, and even jazz instead, creating a sound that, on the surface, was pure rock and roll, but underneath, was so much more. Sultans of Swing is obviously the track everyone remembers the best, and for good reason. But even the deep cuts are essential listening, with Down to the Waterline, Water of Love, and Setting Me Up standing out as particular highlights. A triumph.
2. Making Movies
Like Love Over Gold, Making Movies is an ambitious album. Unlike Love Over Gold, it was made for radio. Actually, scratch that – this was an album made for arenas. Packed from one end to the other with giant, sweeping anthems like Romeo and Juliet and Tunnel of Love, you can almost hear the roar of the crowd and the click of a thousand lighters as you listen. Communique got slammed for sounding too much like a poor man’s Dire Straits. Making Movies doesn’t sound like a poor man’s anything. Big, bold, and utterly brilliant, it swept away any suggestion that Dire Straits were one-hit wonders in one exhilarating move. Released on 17 October 1980, it charted at No. 1 in Italy and Norway, No. 19 in the US, and No. 4 in the UK. It’s since certified double platinum in the UK and platinum in the US.
1. Brothers in Arms
After the sweeping ambition of Love Over Gold, Knopfler decided to tone things down for its follow-up. It was a wise move. Although Dire Straits had enjoyed a good amount of success with their previous albums, nothing could have prepared them for just how massive Brothers in Arms would become. Released in May 1985, it spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the UK Album Charts, nine weeks at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200, and a stonking 34 weeks at No. 1 in Australia. In the UK, it became the first-ever album to be certified ten times platinum and the eighth best-selling album in chart history. It’s now sold over 30 million units worldwide to rank as one of the world’s best-selling albums of all time. To find out what all the fuss was about, listen to So Far Away. Keep on listening until you get to the end of Walk of Life. Then hit repeat and listen to the whole thing again. It won’t take you long to figure it out.