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Tempests and Privateers

After their joint tour last year, it seems right that Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler should release albums so close together, and that I should review them side by side. And so to Privateering.

I've got rather fond of Mark Knopfler's solo output since Howard introduced me to Dire Straits. It's pleasant and inoffensive as background music, yet the lyrics repay attentive listening through headphones too.

Privateering is another offering in the bluesy/folky/country genre he favours. A couple of tracks have a sea-shanty flavour appropriate to the title, although the cover image is of a rusty old van (this is, after all, the man who called an album Sailing to Philadelphia then put a photo of an airliner on the front). Not everyone can get away with stuff like "Yon's my privateer, see how trim she lies", but Knopfler has always been good at balancing sincerity with a lightness of touch.

'Corned Beef City', a pacy ode to cash-in-hand workmen with lines like "Don't ask questions when there's nothing in the bank / Gotta feed the kids and put the diesel in the tank" and "Bacon, egg and sausage, double chips and beans / Tea and bread and butter and a day on the machines", is catchy but seems a little mean-spirited, poking fun at those not fortunate enough to be billionaire rock stars (I feel much the same way about 'Money For Nothing').

The home of Starbucks and Frasier is somewhere I've long wanted to visit. The gentle, wistful 'Seattle' ("you've got to love the rain / and we both love the rain") has only increased this desire. And if you thought that was a sentimental number, just wait for 'Radio City Serenade'.

There were quite a few points on the album where I thought "Hmm, this motif/instrument/line reminds me of x Dire Straits song", but these were fleeting and the comparison was never unfavourable to either song. In particular, 'I Used To Could' could have been sung by the protagonist of 'Heavy Fuel' twenty years on.

'Bluebird' is, by my interpretation, perhaps the funniest song ever written about believing you have too many faults to be loved, using a run-down property as metaphor: "I got squirrels in my rafters, got weevils in my hay / If I were you, little bluebird, I'd up and fly away".

2007's Kill To Get Crimson was a slow grower for me; I grew fonder of it and discovered more in the lyrics with every listen. I believe Privateering will be the same, and I look forward to deepening my acquaintance with it.
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