NICK DRAKE – ” Pink Moon ” Released in the UK by Island Records on 25th February 1972

Posted: November 5, 2022 in MUSIC

Nick Drake was the kind of musician other artists dream of being—and, in some ways, fear becoming. Largely unknown during his 26 years on this planet, Drake’s dark-yet-delicate music returned to public consciousness more than twenty-five years after his 1974 suicide, when the title track of his final record, “Pink Moon” (1972), was included in a dreamy 2000 Volkswagen commercial hawking the Cabrio convertible. Seventeen years later—and 50 years after “Pink Moon’s” release—a diverse cross-section of musicians are still citing Drake as an influence.

Every artist seems to have an album where they finally cut all the nerves and lay their bare soul out to the masses. For Nick Drake, “Pink Moon was his. And it is, without a doubt, one of the most honest albums from an artist struggling through their mental health issues. In listening to Nick’s two previous albums, he casts himself in the role of observer–watching and wondering about others. However, in “Pink Moon”, the tables turn: Nick is now the subject, and we, the listeners are the observers being held captive to his pleas for release from his suffering. I absolutely guarantee no other album will make you want to reach through your speakers and give the artist a long, comforting hug–as much as “Pink Moon” does.

In many ways, though his path was different than both of theirs, Drake was a kindred spirit to artists like Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith (who also owes quite a bit of his spare, haunting sound to Drake). He was deeply in love with music, hungered for success, but, in many ways, shrank from the trappings of music stardom. As a result, he died “thinking he was a failure,” as his sister Gabrielle said in a 2015 interview.

Although today Drake’s fingerprints are all over popular music, when his records were first released, they hardly made a dent. Drake released two other albums before “Pink Moon”—”Five Leaves Left” (1969) and “Bryter Layter” (1971) —neither of which sold that well upon release. In fact, “Five Leaves Left” sold fewer than 3,000 copies during Drake’s lifetime, according to George Plasketes’ Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself: Essays on Debut Albums. Pink Moon fared about as well. The pensive British singer-songwriter’s downfall, in many ways, was due to his lack of confidence; he was not big on interviews and performances, a reticence that means there’s a dearth of live footage of Drake during his adult years.

“He sang away from the microphone, mumbled and whispered, all with a sense of precariousness and doom,” musician Brian Cullman recalls in the Trevor Dann’s Darker Than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake. “It was like being at the bedside of a dying man who wants to tell you a secret, but who keeps changing his mind at the last minute.”

The album opens with the title track which is a short, sweet, and to the point song. In a spiritual sense, pink moons usually signify rebirth and a metamorphosis–as they are usually spotted in spring. Change of seasons is a motif that appears a lot in Nick’s work, seemingly fascinated by the cycle of life, death, and then rebirth. As such, it sets a good preview for the rest of the album.

“Pink Moon” gets us comfortable and settled in. However, “Place to Be” is where the emotional ride really starts. This song is a painfully beautiful ballad lamenting happier times, and an estrangement from a former self. Nick was at his creative and emotional height in the late sixties when he was attending Cambridge University. He surrounded himself with lots of friends, wrote lots of new songs, and was overall content with his place in the world. In this song, we see that Nick is recognizing he is no longer that happy, friendly figure. The lyrics are chilling and the melody is haunting.

The next highlight of the album is “Which Will”, a clear heartbreak song dwelling on rejection. Rejection from whom? It’s not exactly clear. A love interest? The music industry? The world? Though the song sounds peaceful and mellow–as most of Nick’s songs are–one can’t help but notice the restrained anger in his voice which certainly isn’t present in many other songs of his.

“Things Behind The Sun” is another song of restrained anger, and even paranoia about perceived manipulation and deceit–no doubt aimed at his producer, who still has a vivid memory of Nick angrily confronting him about his lack of success and insisting his producer had something to do with it. But the sad truth was, Nick’s music just wasn’t what the larger music press was into at the time. But the hurt from the rejection stung, and Nick wanted someone to blame. And that’s what we hear in this song. “Which Will” questions the rejection, and “Things Behind the Sun” accuses those who reject. On its surface, the song is still mellow and quiet. But, digging into the lyrics, we see someone who is truly hurt and struggling to grasp their rejection.

“Parasite”–which transcends the aforementioned self-deprecation found in Nick’s previous works, and instead devolves it into pure and outright self-loathing. Nobody compares themselves to an unwanted, life-sucking entity that is hard to get rid of–unless they truly hate themselves. And this is what we see in the song. Definitely the darkest song on an already pretty dark album. But like all other Nick Drake songs, the melody is beautiful and you still can’t help but love it.

The album closes with “From The Morning”, a surprisingly uplifting song about hope, resurrection, change–however one wishes to interpret it. The song is made sad only by the fact that its lyrics “Now we rise, and we are everywhere” are inscribed on Nick’s tombstone. It ends the album on a bittersweet note: We know of the pain that lingered in the soul of the artist, but the songs serves to remind that even in our darkest moments, we can have hope. And I think while the world experiences collective trauma right now–that is exactly what we all need to hear.

The secret hidden in his voice, however, was enough to draw people near—both back in the ‘70s and today. As his sister says in , “I think to really love Nick, you have to love the mystery of him as well.” There was something about his weeping-willow voice and careful, poetic phrasing that initially captured the attention of his first producer, Joe Boyd—and that weaves its way through the musician’s first two records, verdant orchestral affairs featuring the talents of Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention), John Cale and Drake’s former schoolmate Robert Kirby, among others. And there was something, too, that stood more starkly in “Pink Moon”a precursor to the now omnipresent bedroom recording—which was recorded over the span of two days and featured only Drake on guitar and a sole piano overdub on the title track.

Clocking in at a scant 28 minutes, the spare “Pink Moon” received the usual cadre of mixed reviews that denote a classic. Jerry Gilbert wrote in Melody Maker: “Maybe it’s time Mr. Drake stopped acting so mysteriously and started getting something properly organized for himself.” Al Clark of Time Out, however, wrote: “Those who have tried their hand at his material haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” going on to bemoan, “Nick Drake is likely to remain in the shadows, the private troubadour of those who have been fortunate enough to catch an earful of his exquisite 3 a.m. introversions.” Clark ended up being more right than he bargained for. After lapsing into a deep depression, Drake died of an overdose of antidepressants only two years after “Pink Moon’s” release.

released in the UK by Island Records on 25th February 1972

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