The most overlooked and often blatantly ignored album from Dire Straits, Communique's lack of a major hit single doomed it to the bargain bin within three years of its release. Was this, the sophomore effort from Mark Knopfler and associates, really such a failure? Some say that due to its release nine months after Dire Straits' self-titled debut album it was rushed and uninspired. Others have said it is actually the second half of the band's first album as no one can release a double album right off the bat.
Communique is actually a more fluid album than its predecessor. It is steady, where Dire Straits' first album had highs and lows. There isn't a weak song and there isn't anything that blows you off your bar stool. It makes a great companion when driving down the highway very late at night or over endless country roads in search of a destination.
Communique was released in 1979 on Warner Brothers/Phonogram and produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett. The band lineup consisted of Mark Knopfler on guitar and vocals, David Knopfler on guitar, John Illsley on bass and Pick Withers on drums. According to some stories, specialists were brought in to determine how to sequence the songs for maximum effect, and this may be one of the most important elements of the album. The songs fall into place one after another like a true album, in the days when an album was an album and not just a collection of songs framing a couple of intended hit singles.
Once Upon A Time In The West. The album kicks off with a lonely little bluesy sounding guitar and then kicks it up a notch. There are reasons why it feels good having this dangerous and melancholy band along for the ride on those lonely nights on the quest. You move back and forth between being emotionally contemplative and tapping your fingers and bobbing your head happily on this one.
Some people get a cheap laugh
breaking up the speed limit
Scaring the pedestrians for a minute
Crossing up progress driving on the grass
Leaving just enough for room to pass
News. Brings to mind images of musty old barrooms and lost innocence. No finger tapping or head bobbing here. Keep your eyes on the road, for the mind may wander. Listening to the words, it seems to be the story of an outlaw from the Old West stuck in modern day times unable to relate to life as we know it. Or maybe that thought is planted in our heads after the opening track.
He's says it's a shame
You know it may be a game
But I won't play to lose
He sticks to his guns
He take the road as it comes
It takes the shine off his shoes
He's too fast to stop
He take it over the top
He make a line in the news
Where Do You Think You're Going?
Think about the end of the line
. Imagine or remember those shady
moments where a relationship
was coming to a less than amicable
ending and you were trying to hold on
. You cross the line and lose touch with your rational
mind. You've given up on trying to play the good cards and keep things together for the right reasons. You don't even know what you're saying any longer. Picture the woman packed and ready to leave and the frustrated
man slumped down in the sofa with a beer rambling about why she's making a mistake
Where do you think you're going?
Don't you know it's dark outside?
Where do you think you're going?
Don't you care about my pride?
And now I'm sick of joking
You know I like you to be free
So where do you think you're going?
I think you better go with me girl
I've always seen this song as connected
to the previous tune. It seems to be about the same guy, but some months after the departure
of the lady friend. Or it could be, as someone once told me, a tongue-in-cheek
statement from Mark Knopfler about his lack of statements to the press about the new album. It is another reflective
toe tapping song that will bring your attention back to the road ahead
and remind you to turn on your windshield wipers
. It is starting to drizzle
And now the rumors are flying
Say that he's been trying someone else's wife
Somebody at the airport
Somebody on the phone
Says he's at the station and he's coming on the noon
Then we get the story a serious breeze
And a photograph taken in the hall
You don't have to worry with the previous release
Right now, he's saying nothing at all
But in the communique you know he's gonna come clean
Think what he say, say what he mean
Lady Writer. Released as the single from the album, it failed to perform as strongly on the charts as Sultans of Swing from the first album. While that is seen as the standard of success, the decades of overplay have turned Sultans into a parody of itself. This song, while forgotten by many, tells a most interesting tale. It is the story of a man watching a woman writer on television who looks a lot like his former lover. Ever notice when you unwillingly break out of a relationship you start to see him or her in other people? Maybe it is just me. Anyway, the quirk is that this lady writer on the television is intelligent and knowledgeable. The singer muses about how the resemblance is only skin deep. His former lover, well she could barely write her name.
Lady writer on the TV
She knew all about history
You couldn't hardly write your name
I think I want it just the same
Angel of Mercy.
Has our hero reached the crossroads? Have we been talking about the same disheartened fellow throughout the entire album? Angel of Mercy puts a new spin on the running theme. We've gone deep into the struggles of the melancholy but strong willed and hopelessly misguided hero and now he wants something. Is the angel in question a vision or is she a real entity? It isn't hard to imagine our hero sitting there in a bar with the saxophone in the background deciding that he's had enough of regret and wanting one night of unattached passion to liberate him. I've always had a strange theory that this is where our leading man dies and our focus drifts elsewhere.
Angel of Mercy angel delight
Give me my reward in heaven tonight
And if I give up my sword won't you give me the right
Angel of Mercy give me heaven tonight
Well if you cross your heart and spit
And swear upon the grave of your mother
You got to get in the hit
Tell me that I'm your all night lover
On a personal level this song creeps me out because it contains slightly twisted versions of the names of the two great loves of my life. This is also remembered by many as the best song on the album and a live version was featured on the Brothers In Arms best of collection.
We've stepped away from the anti-hero that seems to have found his way into the past few songs and we're now talking about a lovely young lass who thinks she is tough enough to take on any trouble that comes her way. Is she really or is she just trying to convince herself of this?
Bella donna's on the high street
Her breasts upon the offbeat
And the stalls are just the side shows
Victoriana's old clothes
Yeah she got the skirt so tight now
She wanna travel light now
She wanna tear up all her roots now
She got the turn-up on the boots now
She thinks she's tough
She ain't no English rose
But the blind singer
He's seen enough and he knows
He do a song about a long gone Irish girl
But I got one for you, my portobello belle
The last two songs on the album have an almost ambient
feel to them. It may just be my preoccupation
with death, but I tend to envision
this song as the passage
on the river. Perhaps something on the level of crossing the river Styx
alone not knowing what might be found on the other side
. Of course, we all interpret things as we envision them and I've never believed in assigning single interpretations to any songs. They are better when seen through our own ears.
He's upon the bridge on the self same night
The mariner of dry dock land
Two in the morning, but there is one green light
And the man on the barge of sand
She's gonna slip away below him
Away from the things he's done
But he just shouts "Hey man, what do you call this thing?"
He could have said "Pride of London"
On the night when the lazy wind is a-wailing
Around the Cutty Sark
Yeah the single handed sailor goes sailing
Sailing away in the dark
Follow Me Home.
Waves being used as a musical instrument add to the peculiar flavor of the last song on the album. Unless you have an uncommon view of going out with a bang, the album does not go out with one. The general melancholy feel of the album, where hope mingles with despair and we dance in the eye of the stagnating hurricane, leads us to this inevitable conclusion. There is no happy Hollywood ending. There is a distant feeling of surrender mixed with a different kind of empowerment. Our singer wants the woman to follow him home, but we're pretty sure wherever they are isn't the kind of home we know. We are all strangers here, but we have found an odd kind of peace. This is a requiem.
Well I don't need no priest
But I love all of the people
Yes I share the feast
So drink up my wine
Yes and the song in my bones
I know the way
I can see by the moonlight
Clear as the day
Now come on woman, come follow me home
Lyrics samples from
Words and music copyright Mark Knopfler
and Dire Straits.