Down The Road Wherever by Mark Knopfler – Album Review
By David Schuster
It’s many an artist’s dream to be able to produce their work, unfettered by the constraints of commercialism. As one of the world’s most successful musicians, that (I imagine), is the happy situation that Mark Knopfler finds himself in. His latest album, Down The Road Wherever, comes across very strongly as the product of a man doing what he loves best, regardless of anyone else’s opinion but without self-indulgence. I like it a lot for that.
Knopfler has a relaxed way of singing lyrics as though he were telling you a story across the flames of a campfire, as illustrated by his best-known numbers with Dire Straits, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Brothers in Arms’. The record starts and finishes with good examples of this style: ‘Trapper Man’ and ‘Matchstick Man’. The latter may well be autobiographical, but if not, he’s certainly drawing on personal experience for the opening verse; “So there he was then, Penzance to play, Christmas Eve in a nowhere band. Now early morning Christmas Day, he’s hitching home to Geordie land”.
‘Nobody’s Child’ tells a sadly familiar story of a boy nobody wants left to fend for himself by turning to violence and crime. “The ragged kid nobody wanted, left alone to ramble wild. Long ago he was abandoned. Nobody’s child”. Then later in the song, “Learned to swing a broken bottle. Learned to use his fists and knife. In the bar rooms and bordellos of his life”. It’s set in the cowboy era of the American west, but it could just as easily be a modern-day estate in any large city.
However, this is by no means a maudlin album. There’s the light hearted ‘Good On You Son’ and ‘Nobody Does That’, and a couple of laugh out loud tracks, ‘My Bacon Roll’ and ‘Heavy Up’. The former is a beautiful and poignant song that draws you into its silken embrace, before you realise it’s about a sandwich! There’s also some musical humour too, as towards the end of ‘Just A Boy Away From Home’ the slide-guitar solo subtly morphs into the melody of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
I’m a fan of records which are named for something other than the track which the marketing team think sounds the most commercially promising. Down The Road Wherever avoids this pitfall. The line is taken from the lyrics of ‘One Song At A Time’ and is redolent of the long American highway stretching to the horizon on the cover of the CD.
This then is a great album. Will it be commercially successful? Only in as far as the sales you would expect for an artist this famous. Are there any hit singles on it? Unlikely. That said, I’m confident that, at this stage of his life and career, Knopfler won’t worry unduly about that. I know this because that’s the point made by the brilliantly catchy ‘Heavy Up’: “How much is your praise really worth? About the same as your thumbs down. And why should I lighten up for you, if you can’t heavy up for me?” Indeed.