Golden Heart

Mark Knopfler

Warner Brothers, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on June 11, 1996]

We've talked many times in these pages about singer-songwriters who leave successful bands, but what about singer-songwriters who virtually are successful bands? At some point in the creative process for a guy like Dire Straits—I mean, Mark Knopfler—the issue comes down to labeling the product, i.e., which should we call this one, a Dodge Stealth or a Mitsubishi 3000GT?

Either way, the creative voice is Knopfler's—moody, eclectic, marble-mouthed and acid-witted. His guitar playing is equally unmistakable—nimble and understated, with a sweet, full tone and sure-handed confidence that invites comparisons to Clapton. On my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Golden Heart, he strives even more than usual to mix styles and subject matters, and comes up with a winning meld, even if his distinctive sound and use of several of his Dire Straits supporting players do make it difficult to distinguish this immediately as a solo effort.

One habit Knopfler picked up early was to leaven his darker introspective stuff with at least one ripping, lyrically pointed number that inevitably became the big Dire Straits single of the season, e.g. "Industrial Disease," "Money for Nothing," "Heavy Fuel." Here it’s a tune called "Imelda," graced with a fat hook and bitingly funny lines like "Madame's taste is truly exquisite, she must accessorise" (the sad part is, it probably went right over Mrs. Marcos' wee little head).

Elsewhere, Knopfler seems in a particularly romantic mood. "Darling Pretty" and the title track are unabashedly celebratory love songs, the former a mid-tempo rocker, the latter a slow-building soulful croon. He hasn't lost his flavor for writing about marginal characters on the underside of life, as heard here in brooding pieces like "Vic and Ray," "Rudiger" and the possibly autobiographical "No Can Do.” But the medieval beauty and knight-in-shining-armor imagery of "A Night in Summer Long Ago" suggest his horizons have expanded.

By the time the closing number—the countrified, charmingly quirky ballad "Are We In Trouble Now"—rolls around, you're left thinking maybe there is something to calling this a solo album. Because here, for once, we seem to have gotten a glimpse behind all the shady scenarios and socio-political needling, closer the heart of this mysterious guitar-slinging character named Mark Knopfler.

Rating: B+

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