Mark Knopfler writes mood music for sad and lonely men. Mark Knopfler writes modern Celtic-folk songs about an old country none of us has ever known, but long for deep in our hearts. Mark Knopfler writes rock songs about down-on- their-luck miscreants. On Get Lucky, his 15th solo album (counting film scores) and one of his best, the ace guitarist and former Dire Straits head honcho delivers all of these promises and much more—a tuneful allegory of the trials and tribulations of the recession.
This follow-up to 2007’s uneven Kill to Get Crimson is pervaded by a wistful mood. Sometimes that’s expressed through nostalgia over simpler times spent playing guitar and passing a bottle of wine around a campfire (“Before Gas and TV”). Sometimes it’s the dream of becoming the king of the race track (“The Car Was the One”). And sometimes it’s the autumnal reminiscence of friends both dear and departed (“Remembrance Day”). But, while wistful, these empathetic elegies are never maudlin. Rather these songs ring with the reflection and resignation that may fall upon a middle-aged man like Knopfler—who broke a collar bone and several ribs a couple of years ago in a scary motorcycle accident—who begins to take the measure of his life.
That’s not to say that these vignettes are autobiographical, but the moods that caress these well-crafted characters, like the mist that envelopes the doomed sailing ship in his Celtic ballad “So Far from the Clyde,” are pervasive. Unlike the scavengers who pick over the carcass of that wrecked vessel, however, these songs often are unabashedly sentimental, some might even say cloying, evoking the same sense of loss and longing found on Knopfler’s excellent 1984 film score for Cal. Sometimes that sentiment is carried on the unadorned melody of a penny whistle and sometimes on the steely tone of a Stratocaster. But it’s always there and it’s always expressed in a suitably cinematic fashion, as is befitting an artist who has a half dozen film scores to his credit.
Sometimes that down-tempo mood turns defiant and edgy, as with the paranoid gun-toting vet in “Cleaning My Gun.” Musically, one of the few exceptions in hand-wringing is “You Can’t Beat the House,” an infectious shuffling blues in the style of Knopfler’s idol J. J. Cale that appropriately enough recounts the tale of a hard-luck gambler. It makes you realize that Knopfler could churn out a strong straight-ahead blues album. But as his past work has shown, this is an artist who has a subtler spin on life, a quieter vision of the blues.
Indeed, several of these tracks would sit comfortably beside the classic Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms,” which combined Knopfler’s affinity for the epic with his ability to craft atmospheric tone poems. Some may find these songs of suffering too laced with melodrama, as with the closing track, “Piper to the End,” which swells up a bit too self-consciously. But when you’re in the mood. . . . After all, in a recession-plagued era of broken dreams, who doesn’t feel sorry for himself once in a while? Who doesn’t wish he’d been dealt a better hand? Who doesn’t long to get lucky for a change?