Nick Drake - Pink Moon

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1974-02-25
Nick Drake - Pink Moon
Nick Drake - Pink Moon

Despite the bad 70’s cover art, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon is the rarest of rare commodities: a perfect album. It’s not too long, it’s not too short. It’s not dated. It’s something you can put on late at night or early in the morning. It’s just as accessible on a spring or summer afternoon as it is on a rainy, windswept evening. Let’s face it, even your favorite albums have at least one bum track. If you ask me, Pink Moon is an exception. There’s no fat to trim. What’s more, it packs a wallop behind it’s low-key, unassuming demeanor. Possessing a mysterious intimacy and a melancholic grace. It’s unlike any other record I know of. A record that has influenced many but can never be repeated.

It also is a very misunderstood record. Contrary to legend, Pink Moon is no farewell note from a walking suicide. The opposite, in fact. This is not the work of a crumbling psyche but of an artist at the height of his powers. This is not the sound of a shrinking violet or someone lacking in confidence. This is the sound of someone who strongly believes in what they’re doing. This is the sound of a person utterly inspired. True, Drake battled crippling depression, but at the time of recording, he’d just come back from a Spanish holiday and was enthused.

Reserved Drake may have been, but to cut such a spare record was in fact, a ballsy choice. It simply wasn’t done much at the time. He was certainly making a statement and sticking to his guns. It was essentially a “fuck off” move. A fuck off to the Music industry and its various pressures.  So, in its own way, Pink Moon is one of the great, “fuck you” albums of all time. It may have been an introvert’s middle finger but a middle finger nevertheless.

He cut the record in just two sessions, with only engineer John Wood for company.  Without question, Drake wanted a more organic sound. He consciously set out to ditch the florid orchestrations that characterized Five Leaves Left and Bryter Later. Here, the focus was on the playing and the songs. Sparse Pink Moon may be, but it’s quite a lush sparseness

Whoever licensed ‘Pink Moon’ for a Volkswagon ad, it certainly raised Drake’s profile. It also completely shat on the song, trivializing it. Fortunately, great songs have more shelf life than an ad campaign. While whimsical on its surface, underneath, ‘Pink Moon’ is fraught with a delicate, inexplicable longing. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “a raid on the inarticulate”.

‘A Place To Be’ follows, an anthem which beautifully captures that rock and a hard place between youth and adulthood. It can serve as either a soul search or a breakup song, depending on your view. It also has some real darkness lurking in the corner. What that darkness’ intentions are, is unclear. But it can be felt.

“You can take the road that can see you to the stars, I can take the road that will see me through,” Drake confesses on ‘Road’. A willful sentiment that sums up Pink Moon’s attitude like no other. Delivered with just the right touch of resignation, hinting at the true toll of parting ways.

‘Which Will’ once again wrestles with youthful questions. It could be addressed to Drake himself, or to another. Or to a higher power. Like any great song, its opaqueness is deliberate:

“Which will you go for
Which will you love
Which will you choose from
From the stars above”

‘Things Behind The Sun’ is another shining example of Pink Moon’s simple complexity. Its lyrics, pure poetry in the finest sense. Capturing the inarticulate, most articulately. Drake’s lyricism owing more to Keats and Shakespeare, than Bob Dylan:

“And see the sun when day is done
If only you see
Just what you are beneath a star
That came to stay one rainy day
In autumn for free”.

‘Know’ is Pink Moon’s most threadbare moment. The sound of pacing the floor, mulling over some sort of sort of decision that is never made. Eat your heart out, Hamlet. Drake’s repetitive riff growing in intensity after the sole lyric:

“Know that I love you
Know I don't care
Know that I see you
Know I'm not there”

‘Parasite’ finds Drake “lifting the mask from a local clown”, offering a bleak character study of someone who views themselves as little more than a leech on the living. Pink Moon’s darkest moment. Stark as it is, the song is melodic and irresistibly hypnotic. Nor is it devoid of empathy, regardless of the desolate avenues it stumbles through.

Elsewhere, the somewhat somber sounding ‘Free Ride’ is more mischievous than meets the eye. A gentle, Rabbie Burns tug on the sleeve of lady fair. Hoping she’ll finally take notice and give this sheepish lad a “free ride”. It’s Pink Moon’s most playful and carnal moment. Drake’s lyricism, notably switching from town to country.

‘Harvest Breed’ offers a picture of “falling fast and falling free”. A song about being open to new possibilities, or as Drake eloquently puts it, the “harvest breed.” Far from a depressing sentiment. Steadfastly at odds with the superficial assessment that Pink Moon is a manic-depressive, bedsit diary of despondency. It’s nothing more than a short, sweet song of hope before the gorgeous valediction of ‘From The Morning’. A song that says farewell by setting the scene for the start of a journey, to parts unknown. 

And before you know it, Pink Moon has sailed on by. Throughout, Drake evokes a deeply personal, twilit world. By avoiding studio embellishment, he’s able to invite the listener in, burning close like never before.

There are some records, I simply can’t get enough of and this is one of them. As much as I love every scrap of Drake’s recorded output, I am truly a moth to Pink Moon’s flame. It’s one that burns brightly on dark days and casts a vernal glare on the more cloudless. An album I treasure. Haunting and beautiful. Like no other. A timeless masterpiece.

 

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