“The crowd calls for the emperor, raise their hands to hail another king. But he’s been so long a wanderer another crowd can never mean a thing.”
These lyrics, from British guitarist and songwriter Mark Knopfler’s song “Lights of Taormina” on “Tracker,” his latest album, are representative of the album as a whole and Knopfler’s perspective at this point in his life and career.
With its life reflections, the March 17 release continues forging beyond the shallowness of rock stardom. Like the passing raptor in his fingerstyle-driven “Silver Eagle,” Knopfler sees it all, past and future, and is able to borrow from his Dire Straits days while not dwelling in them.
The accomplished guitarist’s taste for understatement, both in his elegantly sparse solo flourishes and almost imagist lyrics, is stunning. Knopfler, now 65, loves ballads, and nine of the eleven tracks exceed five minutes. This lack of variety is at times tiresome, and my mind did wander during especially drawn-out fades.
Additionally, the closing track, “Wherever You Go,” is a lethargically-paced duet that falls flat compared to Knopfler’s earlier collaborations with James Taylor and Van Morrison.
But otherwise, Knopfler redeems any missteps with a surfeit of interesting tales, themes, and instrumentation, from workaday poets and novelists to sonorous saxophones and banjos, from Celtic flute to Americana folk.
Some of the melodies, like the hypnotically honest “River Towns,” unfold familiarly, while others, like the sharp guitar groove of “Broken Bones,” arise unexpectedly, all supported by his wonderfully deep vocals.
In the end, “Tracker” offers neither earth-shattering social commentary nor musical extravagance, and Dire Straits fans should not look to it for old hits.
Rather, it dedicates itself to pensive and mellifluous storytelling, reminiscent of a transcontinental train ride stopping here and there for passengers—a jaunty freeloader in “Skydiver” or ditch-digging father in “Mighty Man”—or to revisit bittersweet memories—a London bar or grey skyline—but always pressing forward.
It’s music for the road and for the wandering, and all you travelers and bewildered poets must do is “track” down a copy.