Cult Classics Album Breakdown 9

Mark Knopfler – Privateering (2012)

There are some songwriters that have such a signature sound you know exactly who it is within three seconds of listening. Mark Knopfler is one such musician. It’s not even just for those clickety slick licks anymore either; it’s the full, panoramic soundscape that blends Folk with Trad with Rock with Country Blues – it totally belongs to him.

Knopfler is also a songwriting machine. His output has been consistent post-Dire Straits, and all of it a remarkable standard. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, so they say. And in a similar vein to AC/DC (although wildly different, of course) Knopfler never strays very far from home base. And why should he? The formula is there, and the end product unquestionably polished. Privateering, his 2012 twenty-track double solo album, maintains his incredibly high standards and features some absolute Knopfler gems.

Knopfler has a knack of writing new tunes that sound like standards. The title track Privateering is one such number that could well have been written around a campfire one-hundred years ago. After The Beanstalk sounds like something Robert Johnson could have composed, and Bluebird has something eminently Peter Green about it. The beauty of it all is that Knopfler lends sounds from his peers, and like a great LP that he just can’t bring himself to return, keeps it for his own. A bit naughty, but somehow brilliant.

The former Dire Straits and Notting Hillbillies frontman also has a knack of rousing gentle folk-rock soundscapes and moody portraits painted by acoustic guitars, penny whistles, delicate electric guitar blues licks, melancholy fiddle and captivating accordion. Red Bud Tree is delightful, as is the outstanding, penetrating Go, Love. There is a tenderness in Miss You Blues that emits a deep-rooted satisfaction of his lot from Knopfler. It’s just about as listenable as a record could be.

The record is ably supported by some stellar session musicians, most notably former Dire Straits keys player and master arranger, Guy Fletcher. Fiddle and cittern player, John McCusker, is another notable name, along with bassist Glenn Worf, Michael McGoldrick on whistles and pipes, and Paul Franklin on pedal steel. The blend is primarily Folky, but this is a band that does much, much more. Seattle is a highlight, with its majestic chord changes and clement longing. The golden nugget on the album for me, however, is Kingdom Of Gold. At all times rousing, it is lyrically stunning and builds like a fine sunrise, culminating with an enchanting backing choir and something profoundly medieval. Knopfler at his very best.

There are a few throwaways in amongst the twenty. Corned Beef City and Gator Blood didn’t do much for me but carry my legs to the kettle for a brief break, but even those intervals are timed well (ha!). Today Is Ok is more of a filler too, though not without its quirks. All in all, a few weaker moments on a twenty-track album is to be expected. They are very much carried by the deep and meaningful quality radiating from the rest.

There is a misery and melancholy that somehow surrounds Knopfler these days, though it only seems to aid the music. I wouldn’t be rushing out for a pint with the man, but I’d certainly be rushing to the record shop every time there’s a new album announcement.

He’d probably have lemonade anyway.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Mark Knopfler News 2020

Top track trio:

Go, Love

Seattle

Kingdom Of Gold


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 6

Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)

Disraeli Gears reads like a Cream Greatest Hits – except it’s better!

Eric Clapton has been involved in some amazing projects over the last fifty plus years, but this one (bar maybe his solo Unplugged album) is the defining moment of his career. It charted Cream’s super powers; their progression into a psychedelic avenue of swirling, kaleidoscopic rock music in a burgeoning scene that boasted the likes of Hendrix, Sgt Pepper era Beatles, Steppenwolf, The Doors, Iron Butterfly and Spirit.

Disraeli Gears spawned two all-time classic rock singles – Strange Brew and Sunshine Of Your Love – both Clapton masterpieces that have never faded in terms of popularity and influence. Strange Brew, the album’s opening track, is a radical groove built upon Jack Bruce’s pioneering frontline bass. Clapton’s guitar work is, quite simply, very special. Dreamy, ambiguous lyrics are the norm on this record – and it’s not rocket science working out why. Clapton, whose drug problems nearly killed him, was literally traversing other dimensions. Ginger Baker probably lived fifty years longer than expected. Jack Bruce’s struggles were well documented.

Sunshine Of Your Love is the soundtrack to a jilted generation. A genius riff ably supported by stunning drum sequences from Ginger Baker, and mesmerising duel vocals by Bruce and Clapton. World Of Pain is psychedelia personified; a stoned reflection of one’s view from a window: “Outside my window is a tree / They’re only forming / And it stands in the grey of the city / No time for pity for the tree or me.” Clapton’s Beach Boys wah wobble lifts the song sky high. It’s an album that makes you wonder about the capabilities of the imagination.

Dance The Night Away boasts a fantastic vocal from Jack Bruce – testament to his great talent as a co-frontman. Tales Of Brave Ulysses is an surging, ethereal number featuring a mesmeric spoken vocal from Bruce, whereas Blue Condition is a total change in direction; Ginger Baker singing in his monotone Cockney drawl to a light hearted melody, echoing the Small Faces Ogden’s Nutgone Flake era. For a man who came across as warm as an iceberg in everyday life, Baker’s voice is rather endearing.

Swlabr features more stunning guitar playing from Clapton, whose natural ability to follow the song with just enough of everything and never too much of anything, has remained nothing short of genius. We’re Going Wrong is a powerful ballad in which Baker takes flight with his fearless drumming, and Outside Woman Blues, one of Clapton’s finest and most underrated arrangements. It’s a thumping, infectious fast-Blues with a profound ability to draw you towards the repeat button.

The album takes another diversion with Take It Back – a rolling and tumbling, harmonica driven number with a melody reminiscent of late Beatles material. The album’s closing track, Mother’s Lament, is another comic-cockney ditty led by Baker – an odd ending to a storming Rock record, but charming all the same.

Cream reformed in 2005 to play five sell-out nights at The Royal Albert Hall, London, for one last time. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce did not look like well men. Clapton, rather ironically considering his terrible vices in the 60’s and 70’s, looked in great health. Bruce and Baker are now gone – Bruce in 2014 of liver disease, and Baker in 2019 having reached the milestone of 80. It’s Clapton’s turn to look frail now, though at 75 he’s still on the live scene, albeit much less frequently. He’s the last man standing from this pioneering power-trio.

Cream as a cohesive unit were absolutely untouchable – and the reunion of 2005 a marvellous event which will live long in the memory. Much of Disraeli Gears was returned to during this farewell residency, and why not. It’s a seminal album from a unique and trailblazing period in music history.

Music like this should never fade into obscurity – and believe me, it wont.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Top track trio:

Strange Brew

Sunshine Of Your Love

Outside Woman Blues