Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: Verve
Genre(s): Adult Contemporary, Pop/Rock
Privateers were essentially pirates who had received temporary dispensation (often in times of war) from a king, a governor, or the regent of a particular trading company—“Licensed to take prizes with a letter from the king,” as Mark Knopfler sings on the title track of his new double album, Privateering. Such career scallywags sailed the liminal space between crime and duty, or (rather) found political opportunity to turn their criminal skills to account; this arrangement was always tenuous, and always temporary. To call Privateers a concept album would be somewhat amiss though.
Since officially embarking on a solo career in 1995, former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler has been quietly and consistently amassing an unassuming horn of plenty, maintaining his prior outfit's penchant for fusing meticulously crafted English blues-rock with sardonic, radio-ready AOR pop, while introducing elements of traditional folk and country with the effortless gait of an artist who has spent his years as both a student and a professor. On Privateering, his seventh solo outing, Knopfler has crafted his most ambitious and pugnacious collection of songs to date, going all in on a two-disc set that pits all of the aforementioned influences against each other without ever succumbing to the convenience of their architectures. Upon first spin, Privateering feels a little like a garage sale, offering up long cold plates of once warm, late-night porch jams that feel like pre-studio session warm-ups, but the album's stately yet schizophrenic nature, which pits lo-fi, studious, yet ultimately forgettable exercises in rote American blues like "Hot or What" and "Gator Blood" with amiable, highway-ready rockers ("Corned Beef City") and incredibly affecting, spooky folk-pop ballads like "Redbud Tree," "Kingdom of Gold," and the magnificent "Dream of the Drowned Submariner," all three of which owe a couple of polite high fives to Dire Straits songs like "The Man's Too Strong" and "Brothers in Arms," reveals an artist in complete control of his arsenal.
"Redbud Tree," a highlight of Mark Knopfler's eighth solo album, could've been written 100 years ago. But given our ecocrisis, this tree-hugging folk gem, embossed with a shimmering fingerpicked Strat, feels cannily modern. Knopfler's sueded voice has changed little since his 1980s heyday, and his elegant electric-guitar work sounds better than ever.
Sometime after Dire Straits hit the big time, Mark Knopfler began to think smaller. Knopfler started his outfit as a “pub rock” quartet with clean-toned finger-picked electric guitars and a minor hit, “Sultans of Swing”. In less than ten years time, a hit album would change all of that. Brothers in Arms spawned two enormously successful singles as the band were packing in stadiums from miles around.
A closer look at Mark Knopfler’s career shows that his talents extend far beyond his work with Dire Straits. He’s produced records for the likes of Bob Dylan and Tina Turner, cultivated a reputation as a sought-after session player, and written and recorded scores and soundtracks, all on top of establishing a respectable second act as a solo artist. While he retired his trademark headband long ago, Knopfler’s multi-dimensional talents have more than enough ensured him of business over the years.