Review Summary: things emerging from behind the sun
I wish I’d been friends with Nick Drake. To be in that softly-lit bedroom, parked on an unmade bed as he let these rough-sewn songs curl up into the din, would be one of those opportunities both beautiful in its intimacy and overwhelming in its significance. We talk of records that act as a reflection of their source -- that are presented to us unadorned and unfettered, but less common is the album that subverts what’s known about the artist who wrote it.
That’s not to suggest that Pink Moon
doesn’t expose the heart of Drake as an artist, because it inarguably does
that. No; with that devastating bit of context that both deafened and amplified his output, Pink Moon’s
sound seems to present a portrait of an entirely different person
. It is, in more ways than one, a comfortable listen. It’s a record for porch-swinging, for the feelings denoted by a closed eyelid, and for the moment a front door closes on the evening which encroaches upon it. Then I wish I’d been friends with Nick Drake, because though the solemnity is heavy throughout this album, he remains endearing.
If I didn’t know who this was, and you asked me to guess which came first: Pink Moon
or Bryter Layter
, I wouldn’t hesitate to guess, erroneously, that this did. For this sounds too comfortable, too easy, and the latter spends its time jittering and shaking with embellishments that usually come with artists trying to prove they’re more than what they built their kingdom on. You wouldn’t find either Hazey Jane
tracks on Pink Moon
, because they’re too busy: the melodies are more slippery, the pacing erratic as though Bryter Layter
is the anxiety to Pink Moon’s
acceptance. In other words, it’s more like what we know of Nick Drake at the time: awkward, nervous, and scared. Here instead we get songs like Road
I’ll concede that this record is at least accurate in its characterisation of Drake as withdrawn. But he sounds comfortable in this deep corner he carves out for himself. Know
, I’m sure, would have taken, like, ten minutes to write, but of course it’s better off for its brevity. We’re aware now, that if the song existed any longer as the internalisation of an idea, its lyrics would have taken on a more macabre shape -- love and certainty turning into some sort of numbing disconnect. Which, I’d hazard, is why this record is bolstered by is concision; it’s ephemerality capturing the artist in his comfort zone as the surface area of that place continues to dwindle rapidly.
And those warm acoustics marry with this fleeting feeling perfectly. Odd tunings resonate from within a weary soul, expanding into a kind of protective force-field – a makeshift barricade absorbing all the tiring *** Drake never had the mental fortitude to deal with properly. And, woven into it: his voice – intoning somewhere between a croon and a murmur – counterbalancing every buzz of the strings and slightly-off-centre rhythm with a gentleness inimitable. Everything, from Place To Be
to From the Morning
, would rather be called “sparse” than “bleak”, because the fact that these songs speak with an inside voice is more a result of them being captured in that comfort zone, where the musician escapes from external forces attempting to dilute his focus. Which Will
, with its arpeggiated progression stuttering and cascading, is the most cluttered track here. It asks a series of questions until it realises the scope of its own confusion, and thusly, Drake retreats into Horn
– a brief instrumental interlude, catching himself before he can succumb to the version of Nick Drake that arises when he’s not writing music.
These are all conjectures, obviously; though for all this tangled analysis, these songs could be about the weather for the amount that I care. What I love about this album is its sound, and its sound alone. It’s so simple and yet no one else could have written it. We know, the second the first chord of the title track rings out, that this is a Nick Drake record. It’s candid but it’s shrouded in ambiguity, as if he’s revealing himself for the first time but he’s shielding his face with his hands. To have this album define his legacy acts as a comfort for the fact that only his legacy remains in the first place.
But I wasn’t friends with Nick Drake. I wasn’t there to hear these songs emerge from vague folksy blueprints borne out of cluster chords and nimbly fingerpicked melodies. I wasn’t there to offer him any company or advice. I’m not sad about it; I’m too far removed, but it’s at least an interesting thought. For now this piece of music is suspended in lonely places and quiet places – places we all find ourselves in eventually.
Retrospectives float around the idea of Drake as a myth -- someone who only appears as a shadow trailing behind the history of contemporary folk. He was “never really there”, one article says, as though his public (ha ha) persona was the most important thing about him. But he was there, completely and sadly human, and he wrote lovely little tunes that were so personal almost anyone could find themselves in them. His were just songs unearthed decades too late; it's not his fault we took so long to pay attention.