Sailing To Philadelphia Review

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Mar 14 2011, 8h20

Sailing to Philadelphia is Mark Knopfler's second post Dire Straits album, coming out over 4 years after Golden Heart. Knopfler spent these four years focusing on film soundtracks. Let me start off by saying Sailing was the last Knopfler/Straits album I had to purchase to complete my collection(outside of all the road-running), and it was an album I was greatly anticipating, after hearing a few songs off it.

The album kicks off with the Edinburgh inspired What It Is, which easily could've fit onto a Straits record. It features a clean stratocaster, ala Sultans of Swing and is beautifully written. My favourite part is the slow vocals that kick in around 2:35. It's a beautiful composition and has beautiful instrumental backing - the best being the weeping violin and the acoustic guitar. This is one of the best tracks off the album.

Track 2 is the title track, Sailing to Philadelphia, which is my personal favourite off the album. Mark Knopfler's lyrics are so heartwarming(He calls me Charlie Mason/Stargazer Am I/It Seems that I was born/to chart the evening Sky/They Cut Me out For Picking Bread/But I had Other Dreams Instead.) James Taylor was perfectly cast and his vocal performance is amazing - it's a shame he never performed this on stage with Mark. The soloing and the keyboards are perfect on this song. It's one of my all time favourite Knopfler compositions, it fact I love the song so much that I'm currently reading Mason & Dixon, the book on which this song was based. Stunning.

What is perhaps the weakest track on the album follows - Who's Your Baby Now, which only goes for 3 minutes. I don't like much about this song, Mark's vocal performance is just non compelling, the lyrics are repetitive and juvenile and the instruments are boring. If this track wasn't on here, it might be the perfect album.

Baloney Again is one of my favourite songs off the album, from the sweet harmonica intro, into Mark's Les Paul soloing jam with the harmonica, through to his amazing lyrics. The song is about racism and is very well written. You really do feel for the character Mark is singing about, he's just out trying to share with people his love for God and the racism just pierces his heart and yours. I'm not that keen on the bridge - it seems very sudden, but the end of it is awesome - I don't know who the back up singer was but he nailed it.

The Last Laugh is a duet with Van Morrison, who again like James Taylor was perfectly cast for the song. It's a song you feel like you've heard before, both give solid vocal performances and the reverb-y guitar is perfect. The lyrics are great, really about perseverance.

Do America is a song that wasn't included on a few versions of the cd. It's the rock song of the album and is very good. Most people see it's too silly, but I really don't see how. Knopfler gives a cool vocal performance and itt's a good parody of young kids who go round the world playing their "Song." It contains a mad guitar riff and some very funny lyrics(Backstage passes for the food and booze/Sunglasses for my interviews/Statue of Liberty/Everybody looking at me.) It adds some good balance to all the slow songs on the album.

Another of my all time Knopfler songs comes with track 7, Silvertown Blues, I truly believe that if this was released with the Straits in 1985 it could've been a number 1 hit. The lyrics are haunting and the chorus is very well constructed. The guitar is simple but effective and most of all the guys from Squeeze do a beautiful job on backup vocals. The message to the song is very true. Just because you can make something glamorous and upper class, doesn't mean you should. Looking back now, this is probably my favourite Knopfler chorus ever(I'm Going Down, Silvertown), i have to sign along, no matter what. This song is perfect.

El Macho is a pretty cool song. The lyrics are quite and could be seen as funny or extremely threatening depending on how you look at it. I.e. a homosexual guy, who is well known from TV could be about to get seriously hurt or it could be taken as tongue in cheek. The only reason I'm leaning to the more dangerous interpretation is because of the atmosphere of the song - all though that just be more tongue in cheek. No real complaints about this song.

Prairie Wedding is a laidback song, written about a guy meeting his mail order bride. It is simple in it's instrumentation, never takes off - which is a good thing. I think it's a nice story song and it has a catchy chorus.

Wanderlust is one of the best off this album, the lyrics are straight and to the point, the guitar as well. Most people probably don't think too much of this song, because of how simple it is, but I believe it's one the most emotive on the album. It evokes true loneliness. Just a man who just travels and keeps on traveling(or wants to).

Now before purchasing the album, I had read many comments by fans saying Speedway At Nazareth was Mark's best track ever. I was slightly disappointed when I listened to it, thinking it was going to be amazing. The lyrics are all right, but nothing special really. The solo is pretty good, I must admit, but overall the songs only about 3/5 at best. Not really compelling other than the solo.

Junkie Doll is a rad blues song that has great lyrics about being addicted to a girl or drugs(or both more likely.) It has a really cool old school quality. It adds great balance to the sort of slow second side of the album. This is also one of Mark's best vocals on the album. The way the drums kick in at the second verse is awesome. Little bit of this'll get you up/Little bit of that'll get you down is rad as well. Blues solo is sweet and so is the drumming and the bass.

Sands of Nevada is an atmospheric number about a Gambling addict who's lost it all, telling the tale of his remorse. The thing about this song is the guy is so addicted that even after he's hit rock bottom and realises it, he just keeps going back to the slots/tables. It's a well written, touching song detailing the devastation caused by gambling addiction.

The album concludes with the beautiful One More Matinee which Mark claimed he had been working on since the mid 70s, it's another well written song. It has a very uplifting chorus/refrain/outro, "somethings gonna happen to make your whole life better, your whole life better one day," it's a very uplifting song to listen to and is very touching. My only complaint is Mark's vocal reading could've been a little bit more heartfelt, but it's all good - a very good album closer.

Overall this album is up there in my top 5, maybe even top 3 or 2 Knopfler/Straits albums, every moment, every song has its' place(except who's your baby now.) A modern masterpiece.

A+

Knopfler followed this up, two years later with the country-tinged The Ragpicker's Dream which I'll try and review asap.

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