Release Date: Mar 17, 2015
Record label: Verve
Tracker is Mark Knopfler’s eighth studio (non-soundtrack) set since 1996, which is two more than his old band churned out in their 13 year run. The Dire Straits years that put him on the map get smaller in the rear view mirror with every solo release and on this one there are few traces left of the old days. But, that’s as it should be since Knopfler seems content to march to his own, far less expansive sonic drummer.
Scaled smaller than 2012's double-album Privateering, Tracker also feels suitably subtle, easing its way into being instead of announcing itself with a thunder. Such understatement is typical of Mark Knopfler, particularly in the third act of his career. When he left Dire Straits behind, he also left behind any semblance of playing for the cheap seats in an arena, but Tracker feels quieter than his new millennial norm.
Dire Straits were big. Stadium big, big on that MTV, big on headbands and padded suits –aesthetically Eighties but yet more enduring and endearing than Nik Kershaw. To the music and guitar cognoscenti Mark Knopfler has always been held in high esteem; a finessed finger-picker, witty balladeer, reluctant pop star and a country wise man – a bloody good Jack of all trades basically.
With bands like the War on Drugs refracting Dire Straits' honeyed 1980s guitar sound, it's surprising that Mark Knopfler hasn't rebooted his old band lately. Instead, he's been unpacking his influences on modest, multifaceted rock LPs like this one. Opening on a vamp recalling Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," then veering into Celtic folk, "Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes" sets the tone for this burnished set about days past.
Mark Knopfler has settled. He has found his place. You couldn’t find a more consistent singer/songwriter/guitarist out there if you tried. The former Dire Straits frontman has been delivering solo albums on a reliable basis since 2000, and none of them turned out to be lemons. However, as unkind ….
There’s a predictable whiff of whisky and rolling tobacco about Mark Knopfler’s eighth solo record, an album that could have been written for the jukebox of a crumbling backstreets pub. It’s as much a collection of character studies as songs, and as a short-story writer Knopfler is hit and miss; the frustrated poet of Basil is nicely evoked, but the rootless boatman of River Towns is too familiar a staple of trad-rock to have an emotional impact. But Knopfler’s music remains a reliable source of warm bluesy guitarwork; the Dire Straits-aping riff of Beryl is a familiar pleasure.
Despite the obvious pedigree of former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, few could have expected his seventh solo effort, 2012’s double album Privateering, to be quite the success it was. The double album has always been a troublesome idea and one that rarely works, but Knopfler’s two discs were remarkably consistent and captured the world-weary sound of Americana perfectly. The record, which was widely praised by critics and reached Number 8 in the UK album charts, demonstrated ambition and saw Knopfler take a risk that, frankly, he did not need to take at this stage of his career.
So what to expect from the eighth solo album from the former Dire Straits man? The answer: 11 new songs “inspired by a wide range of subjects including [novelist] Beryl Bainbridge and [poet] Basil Bunting”. Phew, rock’n’roll… The usual suspects feature, including keyboardist/ co-producer Guy Fletcher, while Ruth Moody, from Canadian folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys, adds vocals to closing track Wherever I Go. To clarify, that’s the closing track of the 11-track CD; a deluxe edition offers four more cuts, while a box set includes those four and a further two, with vinyl a fourth option… Knopfler completists, prepare to splash your cash! And the music? Those who feel Mark’s percentage of memorable songs slumped post-Dire Straits are unlikely to find much here to change their view.
Mark Knopfler continues his late-career resurgence with this skillfully crafted eighth solo effort, revealing a portrait gallery of quotidian and accomplished lives marked by yearning and reflection. Following 2012’s superb “Privateering” the 65-year-old singer-guitarist hews closely to the folk-rock sound he has refined over the course of his career; there are few surprises, but then, no one really expects Knopfler to reinvent himself. Instead, he does what he does best, delivering finely wrought, elegantly arranged songs of subtle depth and rich musicality, many extending past five minutes without overstaying their welcome.