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Album review: Nick Drake – “Pink Moon”

31/12/2010

Happy New Year from Love Songs on the Radio! While the occasion on which I write this review is happy, and all, the album I’ll tackle today absolutely isn’t. In fact, Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” is one of the best albums to listen to when you’re depressed, but it’s the last album to turn to when you do feel so, because it will promptly have you reaching for the razor – just like Joy Division’s entire output (will be reviewed in due time).

The main reason for this is the overall tone of the record – recorded quickly over just two nights or two weeks, according to different claims, “Pink Moon” is just Drake and his guitar – nothing more, except for the overdubbed piano on the title track. As a result, in comparison to his previous two albums’ ornate arrangements, “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Layter”, it sounds bleak and desolate. Even though Nick Drake could make a single acoustic guitar sound like several at once, on some songs he chooses not to: “Horn” and “Know” in comparison to “Things Behind the Sun” sound like they were played on one string. But elsewhere, Nick Drake is simply astonishing – no wonder he is considered one of the best guitarists that ever lived.

The songs are, as usual, of very high quality. The aforementioned “Things Behind the Sun” was an outtake from “Bryter Layter” sessions and was originally meant to have string arrangements in the vein of that album, but somehow it wounded up to be left off the record, and so Drake recorded it for “Pink Moon”. Some (for example, George Starostin) think that it would sound better with strings – even though my respect for the guy is immense, no, the song works better when it only has a solitary guitar accompanied by Drake’s gentle voice. The three songs that follow “Pink Moon” also qualify for the best on the album, but there’s nothing more I could say about them since they all are understated and gentle, and going into detail about their unusual tunings would be too pedantic.

The lyrics are simply crushing. Just take “Parasite”: “and take a look, you may see me on the ground, for I am the parasite of this town”. No small wonder Nick died two years later.

They say “brevity is wit”. “Pink Moon” consists of 11 songs, and lasts less than half an hour – compare to his previous two albums, where at least one song would definitely reach six minutes; and here the longest one just barely reaches the four-minute mark. That’s the part of this record’s appeal – while Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” is one of the most life-affirming, ambitious, extroverted records ever made (and it stands one step above this one in my list of the best albums of all time), “Pink Moon” is the complete inverse – downbeat, restrained, inward-looking – and succeeds on its own, without the bombastic arrangements that dominated his previous albums. (I don’t have anything against them, personally.) Just don’t listen to it when your neck is already in the noose.

Highlights: “Place to Be”, “Road”, “Which Will”, “Things Behind the Sun”, “Parasite”

Lowlights: none. Not even “Know” or “Horn”

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