So I was recording a new song on Thursday, (which will premiere right here when it’s finished), and the in-house producer–who did an excellent job–was professing his love for the band Wye Oak, a Baltimore band I had just seen at Sasquatch, so I began to really listen to their indie hit “Civilian”. The more I listened, the more I realized just how good it was.
Then, something funny happened.
The musical themes and arrangement, I realized, were quite similar to a song that’s been a favorite of mine for years, a song called “Brothers In Arms”, by an eighties band called Dire Straits.
Now before we go any further, here’s some background on Dire Straits. The band was formed by lead guitarist and vocalist Mark Knopfler, and hit it big with the sellout anthem “Money for Nothing”, co-written with Sting, which, oddly enough, riffed on tht then-modern lifestyle and how we were spoiled as a nation–the ominous opening line was “I want my MTV”. But on that same album, Knopfler unleashed his true skill as a songwriter, lyricist and guitarist.
I consider his guitar work on that album to merit his selection as the greatest guitarist of the 1980s in my mind, and his songwriting as some of the best in that decade. This is no better embodied than in his anti-war anthem “Brothers In Arms”.
I first heard the song on The West Wing‘s haunting second season finale “Two Cathedrals”, and the song gained some notoriety after that, but it was minimal, comparable to the level of attention that Wye Oak’s “Civilian” has captured today.
Lyrically, the songs are very different, but structurally, they’re cut from the same cloth. The songs are a series of verses with a repeating melody (with somewhat different lyrics each time) that serves as the chorus, which then just devolves into a forever-lasting guitar solo, with an ever-present underlying organ to create tension.
Oh, and they’re in the same key too. Listen and compare and love:
Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits (1985):
Civilian – Wye Oak (2011):
What I love especially about Knopfler is that he plays the spaces between the notes. You know that next note is coming, but he makes you wait for it, anticipate it until your skin almost itches, then he gives it to you, and ahhhhhhh!!!
-Speed of Dark (Music Blog)