When Sultans of Ping set out to lampoon full-fat 1970s rock there was a certain inevitability in their choice of Mark Knopfler’s Dire Straits and their hit ‘Sultans of Swing’ as punching bag.
To a scrappy indie-punk band, Dire Straits’ dazzling competence must have felt like an affront. They wore bandanas, their songs lasted longer than a Game of Thrones double-bill and the frontman suggested a mix of a slightly bored Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton wearing his British blues revivalist trousers.
Twenty-five years later, Knopfler continues to traverse much the same territory. His tenth solo record is fantastically well-crafted while staying safety within the parameters of how fans and detractors alike imagine a Mark Knopfler album should sound.
Occasionally — such as on the briskly twanging ‘Back On The Dance Floor’ — it seems he might be about to cut loose. And a gentle urgency underpins both the single ‘Good On You Son’, a fine showcase for Knopfler’s gravelled vocals, and album track ‘One Song at a Time’, inspired by the early years of Dire Straits.
But the closest to a bolt from the beyond is ‘Just A Boy Away From Home’ which borrows a melodic line from Rodger and Hammerstein’s Carousel and is written in tribute to Knopfler’s father. The guitars throughout are immaculate as is the violin that arrives on ‘Drovers’ Road’.
The lyrics, by contrast, are often eccentric with bells attached — on ‘Trapper Man’, for instance, he imagines himself as a 19th century hunter of pelts.
Knopfler die-hards will adore every twang and crooned note. Down The Road Wherever, they would doubtless agree, is the best kind of generic — an LP at pains not to reinvent the wheel and to instead give the audience exactly what it craves. It’s precisely the opposite of youthful and angry — but maybe that’s Knopfler’s own kind of revenge against the jeerers.