Knopler, you might recall, once led the rock band, Dire Straits. Since that group's demise, he has put out a number of excellent solo works characterized by his excellent guitar work and increasingly well-crafted lyrics. Knopler has a particular knack for conveying the view from inside of someone else's head. On several of Shangri-La's songs he applies that talent to various sorts of entrepreneurs, hustlers, and independent proprietors.
Each of Knopler's character studies has its charms. Here, though, I'll focus on my favorite of the lot: Boom, Like That. Why that one? For one thing, it rocks. It mixes an anthemic chord progression reminiscent of Green Grass and High Tides with a street-wise, rough-edged guitar. You can listen to it here or here.
So much, so good, but driving tunes come a dime a dozen. The lyrics of Boom, Like That mark it as something truly special. Reading Ray Kroc's autobiography, Grinding it Out, inspired Knopler to describe how the founder of McDonald's launched his fast food empire. Boom, Like That uses Kroc's own words to describe how he got the idea for a hamburger franchise after delivering milkshake mixes to a popular hamburger joint:
The folks line up all down the street,
And I'm seeing this girl devour her meat, now.
And then I get it—wham!—As clear as day.
My pulse starts to hammer and I hear a voice say:
"These boys have got it down!
Oughtta' be one of these in every town.
These boys have got the touch.
It's clean as a whistle and it don't cost much.
Wham, bam! You don't wait long.
Shake, fries, patty, you're gone.
And how about that friendly name?
Heck, every little thing oughtta' stay the same."
Knopler hardly portrays Kroc as some sort of Randian hero. Rather, he shows the hamburger magnate as a fellow just as happy to offer a friendly buy-out as to throw a sharp elbow into a competitor's ribs. Knopler makes Kroc out not an idealized titan of commerce, nor an blandly evil capitalist pig, but rather as a hard-driving, rough-hewn, hamburger hustler. The refrain of Boom, Like That, which follows immediately after the verse quoted above, neatly captures Kroc's character:
Or my name's not "Kroc"—that's "Kroc" with a "K."
Like "crocodile" but not spelled that way, now.
It's dog eat dog, rat eat rat.
Kroc-style. Boom! Like that.
Here and elsewhere on Shangri-La, Knopler offers a fascinating and realistic view of the human side of business. Though sympathetic to his subjects, he cuts them no slack. So much the better, to my taste; I like music with an edge to it. Knopler accomplishes what few artists even attempt: he makes commerce sound gritty, dramatic, and, in an all-important word, cool.