35 Years Ago: Dire Straits Lighten Up on ‘ExtendedancEPlay’
No artist really wants to be known for producing wholly shallow work, but a reputation for brilliance can pose its own set of problems after a while — something Dire Straits dealt with by shaking off their high-minded image for the 1983 EP ExtendedancEPlay.
The abbreviated set arrived in stores Jan. 10, 1983 — just months after the release of their most recent full-length set, Love Over Gold. A critically hailed collection that found the band scaling some of its most ambitious musical heights, Gold also represented some of the less commercially inclined work of Dire Straits' career. Yet as guitarist and bandleader Mark Knopfler took pains to point out, his intention was never to present the group as purely serious.
"It makes me a little wary when people start saying, 'This is a work of genius,' or 'This is a masterpiece,'" Knopfler told Rolling Stone. "That's a kind of labeling too: 'Oh, yes, well, he does some masterpieces.' I'm just as happy doing a Phil Everly session, or playin' 'Move It,' or 'Sweet Little Rock & Roller.'"
His solution? Head into the studio for a few days to knock out a brief between-albums appetizer that wouldn't be forced to contend with the increasingly heavy expectations that awaited each new Dire Straits LP. Collecting a quick four songs — three for the international version — ExtendedancEPlay highlighted the group's uptempo side, offering a change of pace after the more contemplative Love Over Gold. As Knopfler later admitted, that was largely deliberate.
"I suppose with that it's just a reaction from that Love Over Gold kind of period where it was quite a worked on record," Knopfler recalled. "I wanted to do something that just took a day, or took as long as it took to play it and that's when I went and did an EP with the group that just took a day to record and it sounds like it -- that's all it was."
This approach, unsurprisingly, paid commercial dividends. Since scoring a surprise Top 5 hit with "Sultans of Swing" from their debut album, Dire Straits had become something of an albums act in the U.S., where the less pop-oriented direction they'd taken on subsequent releases — not to mention long-form tracks like Love Over Gold's "Telegraph Road" — were more suited to the free-form side of the FM dial. ExtendedancEPlay proved the airwaves were still ready and willing to embrace the right Straits cut: With "Twisting by the Pool," they not only offered the closest thing to a pop single they'd put out in years, they hinted at the multi-platinum pivot waiting in the wings with their next full-length studio release, 1985's Brothers in Arms.
As fans of the group would soon become aware, the EP also presaged a yearning for simplicity that would eventually lead Knopfler to walk away from Dire Straits completely. While working on ExtendedancEPlay, he recalled being "in love with an Everly Brothers EP," and while that influence wasn't exactly lost on the band's earlier work, it would continue tugging on him as Dire Straits grew into a massive stadium-swelling act. Increasingly drawn to change-of-pace side projects like film scores, the Notting Hillbillies one-off country record and his Neck and Neck collection of guitar duets with Chet Atkins, Knopfler moved forward into the solo phase of his career by scaling down — and looking back.