The enigmatic and tragic Nick Drake is someone I discovered, like the late Eva Cassidy, through repeated posthumous playing on radio and various interesting documentaries. I found him a fascinating character- highly intelligent, precociously gifted and criminally underrated during his short lifetime. Weighing in at barely 30 minutes of running time, Pink Moon was his final effort, a sparse direction shift from the lavishly orchestrated previous albums to one with a simple piano and guitar accompaniment.
Short as each track is on Pink Moon, they’re perfectly formed little gems. Drake doesn’t require acres of time to convey the low key, authentically heartbreaking sentiments. Opening with the title track, his voice soars in the verses and plummets to a gravelly depth in the chorus; the sweetness of the guitar balanced nicely by the sad piano afterthoughts.
Place To Be’s lyrics are a harrowing reminder of the tragic events to come:
And I was green, greener than the hills where the flowers grew and sun shone still.
Now I’m darker than the deepest sea. Just hand me down, give me a place to be.
Drake’s voice wavers in its vulnerability here, but hits the listener with the strength of its emotion. Road re-treads the path walked by many classic folk artists with its elegantly yet simply elaborate guitar, and straightforward repeated refrain; Which Will carries this on with some of the most painfully beautiful guitar playing I have ever heard.
There’s a brief (even by the album’s standards) instrumental interlude with Horn, a mournful melody plucked out over a single bass note, segueing into the awkward suspended minor chords of Things Behind The Sun, which flips back and forward into a major key. The real triumph in this piece, in my opinion, is the sheer poetic brilliance of the lyrics:
Open up the broken cup, let goodly sin and sunshine in. Yes, that’s today.
And open wide the hymns you hide, you find renown while people frown
at things that you say, but say what you’ll say
About the farmers and the fun and the things behind the sun
and the people round your head who say everything’s been said
and the movement in your brain sends you out into the rain.
As a young man plagued with mental health issues, the richness of the imagery and succinctness of explanation here give a novice listener as full a portrait of Drake’s inner workings as could ever be wanted.
Know starts with a guitar riff verging on the bluesy rock side, tethered down to the introspective by mournful humming and a short pair of nihilistic lyrics. Parasite, on the other hand, showcases some more of Drake’s excellent guitar work and effortless voyeuristic portrayal of the bustle of daily life. A more generous instrumental opening to Free Ride allows for more savouring of the rhythmic guitar washing over the listener; Drake’s vocals sound easy and comfortable here, rather than weak and tremulous.
Unusually dissonant stepwise notes herald the arrival of Harvest Breed, but the album ends on a slyly positive note with From The Morning:
And now we rise and we are everywhere. And now we rise from the ground.
And see she flies, she is everywhere. See she flies all around.
So look see the sights, the endless summer nights
and go play the game that you learned from the morning.
Briskly-paced, pleasantly chiming guitar and softly intense singing bring Pink Moon to a thoughtful close.
While I don’t consider Nick Drake’s voice to be the absolute best in the business, his mastery of his instrument is sublime, and the emotions conveyed are sincere; it’s small wonder that a generation of navel-gazing indie kids look up to him with such awe, since he more or less writes the rules on what it is to be poetic, angsty and artistically gifted.