By Jim Farber
Updated December 11, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

There’s such ease in Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing and such deadpan cool in his voice, it’s tempting to take him for granted. Don’t. Dire Straits’ best songs seem as singular today as when they first appeared at the supremely unlikely peak of ’70s British punk. On Sultans of Swing, smug novelties do turn up, like ”Walk of Life” or ”Twisting by the Pool,” but on the strongest numbers — the courtly ”Romeo & Juliet” or graceful ”Tunnel of Love” — Knopfler helps keep the faded ’60s notion of the romantic guitar hero alive. B+