The Ragpicker's Dream (Mercury Records) After wallpapering the 1980s with albums and soundtracks, Mark Knopfler has since been most notable in literature - the dullest, most degraded Irvine Welsh characters are usually Dire Straits fans. It's the kind of slight Knopfler would be used to, perhaps even appreciate. He gives the impression of wavering between the need for success and embarrassment at having come so far. The muted minor-key filigree of Knopfler's guitar often sounds like a man playing within himself, afraid to let mortals hear his full talent. The Ragpicker's Dream is largely an ode to mortals like the narrator of Money For Nothing who begrudged the rock star's workload and women more than 15 years ago. Knopfler sings of average people, mostly Geordies, forced to work in Germany or stuck in the memory of a love who is someone else's wife: 'If this old neighbourhood survived us both alright/ Don't know that we withstood all the things that took our light' (A Place Where We Used To Live). The energy levels might not boil your kettle, but we should acknowledge Knopfler's crisp, understated - though still Bob Dylan-inspired - storytelling. The album's best moments are his most accomplished blend of American rock and blues with updated Celtic folk. The rest sounds as though Knopfler projects his nomadic life on to a Depression-era ideal of the working class. It's another example of one of rock's best instrumentalists caught in a thin range, in fear of appearing pretentious. On that score he and Irvine Welsh might have a little in common.