Mark Knopfler is a legitimate member of two halls of fame: those of both great songwriters and great guitarists. The legacy of Brothers in Arms and “Sultans of Swing” rides before his every release, and his membership of one of the most commercially successful bands of the ‘80s probably guarantees that this will not be his last solo effort. Unfortunately, the creative magic that produced those great Dire Straits albums is absent from Tracker, just as it has been absent from most of Knopfler’s solo work.
For starters, after several listens, there remains no stand-out track. There are many pleasant melodies, but every song is softly-spoken and, equally, they all run at very similar tempos. Indeed, many of the songs on Tracker sound very similar to many of the songs on its predecessor, 2012’s Privateering. Opener “Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes” bounces along nicely, and single “Beryl” is one of the catchier tracks, chiefly because it sounds like it could have appeared on a Dire Straits album. Knopfler’s signature finger-picked guitar style appears to its best advantage on these tracks, but it is sorely lacking from much of the middle of the album, which drags significantly. There is also a great deal of evidence throughout this collection of songs that Mark’s vocal talents have not improved since the ‘80s, particularly when set against Ruth Moody’s wonderful voice in the duet, “Wherever I Go.” This track features some beautiful saxophone work from Nigel Hitchcock, but is saxophone really what attracts you to a Mark Knopfler album?
Tracker is another instalment of what so often happens to solo careers of previously ‘great’ artists. Like Freddie Mercury or Noel Gallagher, Knopfler has lost the ability to write truly special material outside of the collaborative environment of the band that made him famous. In fact, there are parts of Tracker that sound like a Springsteen tribute, or a Knopfler guest spot on an early Mumford & Sons record. No doubt the devoted Knopfler fans will be happy with another solid yet slightly inconsequential release, but it will not attract many new followers and certainly will not register in the great back catalogue associated with the Knopfler name. Tracker does not necessarily spell the end for Mark Knopfler, and it is certainly by no means a bad album, but hearing those sparkling guitar phrases that were so at home on “Sultans of Swing” and “Lady Writer” sparingly scattered over a collection of very average songs does make the heart sink and the ears grow weary.