Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Les Boys": Knopfler Goes Fosse?

If Side 1 of Making Movies is like the original Star Wars trilogy, Side 2 is more like the prequels: ostensibly cut from the same cloth, not as good, but still kind of enjoyable if you're high enough. All right, fine, the four remaining songs aren't really that disappointing. "Expresso Love" is a nice mid-tempo rocker that probably sounds too much like "Tunnel of Love" for my taste. Come on Mark, you're supposed to wait at least one album before you rip yourself off. It might be the closest thing to a "happy" love song on Making Movies, but Knopfler delivers the seemingly optimistic lyrics ("She was made in heaven/Heaven's in the world/Is this just expresso love?/You know I'm crazy for that girl") with plenty of uncertainty and caution. He's flying high on a new fling, but maybe that's just the caffeine talking.

If "Hand In Hand" is probably my least favorite cut on the album, I'm not saying that I skip it. Roy Bittan provides some nice piano tinkling, but doesn't it feel like Knopfler is preparing himself for his inevitable foray into Adult Contemporaryland? With its break-up sentiments, it certainly fits the mood though ("If I've been hard on you, I never chose to be/I never wanted no one else/I tried my best to be somebody you'd be close to/Hand in hand like lovers are supposed to").

Although "Solid Rock" is actually about Knopfler's longing for emotional and/or geological stability, and is not an attempt to describe its own musical qualities, with its chuggin Stonesy energy, the song is more or less a chunk of "rock" that is "solid." He's moved on from obsessing about a particular woman and is now trying to formulate a more universal state of mind through which he can deal with "struggle and strife," as he would put it later:
Because the heart that you break
That's the one that you rely on
The bed that you make
That's the one you gotta lie on
When you point your finger 'cause your plan fell through
You got three more fingers pointing back at you

What about the fifth finger? Has it been severed in a horrific accident? Anyway, if Side 2 is like the Star Wars prequels, then the closing track, "Les Boys," is like Revenge of the Sith. And you know what? I enjoyed Revenge of the Sith! But not every Star Wars fan did, and not everybody enjoys "Les Boys." Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes that "the record runs out of steam toward the end, closing with the borderline offensive 'Les Boys' ..." You know what I say? Borderline offensive is the best kind of offensive.

"Les Boys" is, apparently, Knopfler's semi-affectionate ode to German gay bars:
Les boys do cabaret
Les boys are glad to be gay
They're not afraid now
Disco bar in Germany
Les boys are glad to be
Up on parade now

Les boys got leather straps
Les boys got SS caps
But they got no gun now
Get dressed up, get a little risque
Got to do a little S&M these days
It's all in fun now

Les boys come on again
For the high class whores
And the businessmen
Who drive in their Mercedes Benz
To a disco bar in old Munchen

They get the jokes that the D.J. makes
They get nervous and they make mistakes
They're bad for business
Some tourists take a photograph
Les boys don't get one laugh
He says they're useless

Late at night when they've gone away
Les boys dream of Jean Genet
High heel shoes and a black beret
And the posters on the wall that say
Les boys do cabaret
Les boys are glad to be gay
Say what? Did Knopfler accidentally cover an unreleased David Bowie song? How did we go from abandoned fairgrounds in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to disco clubs in Munich? If each song on the album is a miniature "movie," then this one stars Liza Minnelli and she's wearing lacy black stockings and a bowler hat. And Chet Atkins is sitting in the corner for some reason.

If Making Movies is a great "break-up album," one could argue that "Les Boys" has absolutely nothing to do with relationships or heartbreak and is therefore completely out of place on it. But on an album that's otherwise so heavy, I find "Les Boys" a refreshing change of pace. It is so goofy, so playful, whenever it comes on, I just have to smile. I can almost hear Monty Python announcing, "And now for something completely different!" You know what it is? It's campy. And how many Dire Straits songs could you say are campy?

But on a deeper level, I think this song is more related to the albums' themes than it might initially seem to be. I feel like "Les Boys" is Knopfler's way of saying that, despite all the pain that comes from relationships (which he's just spent the previous six songs describing), eventually you can come out of it OK and enjoy life a little. Yeah, it isn't quite On The Beach and "Ambulance Blues," but if it's always darkest before the dawn, "Les Boys" is like Making Movies' silly little dawn. Knopfler spends most of the album wrestling with the concept of romance, and he struggles to reconcile the ideal with the reality. Suddenly, he's in a gay club in Munich, watching this freaky subculture appropriate Nazi imagery for kinky giggles, and quite obviously, these guys aren't trying to reconcile anything with anything. Why take love so seriously? Maybe it's supposed to be messy. Maybe it's supposed to be illogical. Maybe it's all just a farce. Maybe love isn't a movie, and what we really need to do is just throw out the script. Maybe Les Boys ... are really on to something.

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