Nick Drake has been saddled with the kind of (death) “cult” reputation that lends itself to fervent fan-kid obsession (I know, I’ve been there) by some, much to the annoyance of others. Unfortunately for the poor bloke, like Jeff Buckley, and more recently Elliott Smith, his premature passing led marketing men and music journalists to focus on his sensitive, dark, quiet “ethereal” (a word surely created for lazy reviewers) side. This is unfortunate, as, having bought the hype when I was a particularly post-obnoxious seventeen year old (“there’s got to be something more…” etc), a recent re-listening to the man’s back catalogue reveals a body of work intact with some fantastically plaintative, dry humored, and mute-harrowing moments.
Pink Moon was recorded over a few days with producer John Wood prior to its February 1972 release date. It’s a brief record (twenty eight minutes), mainly focusing on a mal-tuned acoustic guitar and vocals. There’s always been a lot of hyperbole over the record (I recall reading about it in an NME “most depressing albums ever” feature around 2000) often focusing on its bleakness. I suppose it’s inevitable given that this was the last non-posthumous Nick Drake album, with a more lo-fi nature than its older siblings and his continued relative obscurity. Pink Moon does feature the occasional sparse message, (“Know” features only the lines: “Know that I love you / Know I don’t care / Know that I see you / Know I’m not there“), but the album offers so much more than that. The album’s opening title track is lyrically simplistic and instrumentally nocturnal, but more in a relaxed, family bonfires and pumpkins with funny faces style. The piano almost sends mist through the stereo. It’s an atmosphere that permeates the next two songs before “Which Will” changes tack. The lyrics are so simplistic one can’t possibly quote them in context. It could be about breakups, breakdowns, hope or ambivalence. While not wishing to mistakenly echo Bill Hicks’ Rodney King satire, it depends on how you listen to it.
“Horn” is a really beautiful, poignant instrumental. It wouldn’t be out of place on Four Tet’s Pause. “Things Behind the Sun” bends from the franticly sinister to the carefree. The aforementioned “Know” feature’s the four lines above, but over a surreal background juxtaposing Drake’s sighs with an off-kilter guitar line more reminiscent of The Fall’s Rough Trade years than Damien Rice. In all fairness to the publicists, “Parasite” is a rather bleak song. It’s also one of my favorite songs of all time. Whether Drake is “changing a rope for a size too small“, or “lifting the mask from a local clown” and “feeling down like him,” I’m smiling all the way. There’s a touch of surreal cynicism on “Free Ride,” seeing through “all of the pictures that you keep on the wall…all of the people that will come to the ball.” However it seems more indicative of somebody at the back of the room laughing at the people who can’t quite tell why they’re dancing than someone who deserves a carefully written biography. “Harvest Breed” is a fantastic hangover tune, particularly when backed by a color-free sky. “From The Morning” closes things with some renewed vigor, as people “rise from the ground.” It’s a Beatles tune for those of us who don’t want to blow out the candles.
Before I was asked to write this review I hadn’t listened to Pink Moon as a whole in a long time. It’s still my favorite Nick Drake album, and one of the best of its era. Ignore the hyperbole and press play.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith
Fairport Convention – Unhalfbricking
Hayden – Everything I Long For