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Best Album
Pink Moon— 
 
Released: 1972

1) Pink Moon  2) Place To Be  3) Road  4) Which Will  5) Horn  6) Things Behind The Sun  7) Know  8) Parasite  9) Free Ride  10) Harvest Breed  11) From The Morning

 

After the release and commercial failure of his second album “Bryter Layter” in 1970, Nick Drake slowly became a virtual vegetable, spending hours in his room in London looking at the ceiling, considering himself an utter disappointment for his lack of success.  He was so embarrassed of this failure and his overall condition that he rarely answered his door and his parents had to force him to see a psychiatrist at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.  There he was prescribed anti-depressant pills and reluctantly took them as required.

 

As a result of the pills, his head did begin to clear and he was able to vacation to Southern Spain where he wrote new material.  Still though, he couldn’t quite get out of his funk.  Nick thought the only way to cure his mental instability was to make an album, so in late 1971 he arrived at Sound Techniques Studios in London.  Working with one of his old partners, John Wood (acting as producer and engineer), Nick was recorded live during two midnight sessions on successive evenings with the lone overdub being the piano he played on the title track.  Wood has stated repeatedly that Drake purposely wanted the album to be as sparse as possible and that he was specifically told to include no orchestration.

 

The resulting album was called “Pink Moon.”  Not since the days of Robert Johnson has a group of songs been recorded that were so minimal, so harrowing, yet so utterly compelling.  Without the obtrusive orchestration, Drake is left alone to carry the songs, and he sounds every bit like a scared, troubled soul on the verge of losing it.  His guitar playing is as bleak as Johnson’s and just as gripping.  His voice is literally too quiet, almost as if he was embarrassed to be singing in the state he was in, but knowing that he had to let out whatever he had left.  His other two records had better melodies overall, but this album, devoid of Joe Boyd’s production magic, is as stark and barren as Nick’s troubled soul, and is thus even more captivating. 

 

The opening, elegant “Pink Moon” gets it all started.  The piano overdubs are stunningly affecting and the lyrics leave you feeling cold: “Saw it written and I saw it say, the pink moon is on its way, and none of you stand so tall, pink moon gonna get you all.”  In Chinese, and other cultures, a pink moon, or blood moon, is caused by a lunar eclipse and is a harbinger of a coming catastrophe.  Many have said that it was Drake’s way of saying that his life was slowly coming to an end.  Not necessarily his body, but his mind was surely collapsing at that point.  Heard knowing the context with which it was performed always leaves me feeling empty.  Similarly, “Place To Be” is a torment onto itself.  Sounding like “Pink Moon” without the piano, Drake somehow seems as if he is playing three different guitars at once.  Lyrics don’t get much more painful than “Now I’m darker than deepest sea, just hand me down and give me a place to be…Now I’m weaker than the palest blue, oh so weak is this need for you.” 

 

Road” is much more bluesy, but just so depressing.  It is the sound of Drake giving up…giving into the madness that is creeping in on his psyche…”I can see the moon and it seems clear…I can take a road that’ll see me through.”  His voice struggles to keep up with the melody, and he sounds so depleted, like he just wants the song and his sickness to be over.  Which Will” is a more pleasant sounding, rolling acoustic run through that could have easily fit on “Five Leaves Left.”  It ends abruptly, with Drake just kind of stopping the music instead of letting it come to any sort of natural closing, leaving the listener feeling unsettled.  Horn” doesn’t help to lighten the mood, as it is a dreary, lonely instrumental consisting of a few notes slowly plucked on a guitar.   Some have called it filler, and while it is technically simple, there is a haunting quality to it and it is a stellar mood piece. 

 

Things Behind the Sun” follows and is one of the most entrancing songs Drake ever wrote.  It seems to be autobiographical and is strangely hopeful, but cautionary at the same time.  In the lyrics, Drake warns himself to stay away from people that stare at him, people that are depressing, people that frown at him, the people “round your head,” and “the movement in your brain that sends you out into the rain.”  It could easily be what Nick was thinking locked up in his London flat for months just staring at the ceiling and taking no visitors…thinking it to be better to hide your problems than to let others in on them.  Know” too seems to be another cry for help and is about the most distressing tune of the record.  It sounds like some old spiritual…a musical séance for Drake, calling out to anyone that will hear: “Know I don’t care…Know I’m not there.”  It is nothing more than a heavily plucked acoustic riff played over and over again, but it is just so bare that it really does make you feel as lonely as Drake must have been. 

 

Parasite” follows and is the most accessible song on the album.  Lyrics, voice, guitar, melody…everything just hits so hard…truly one of the most depressing songs written with lyrics that just drain you: “Take a look you may see me on the ground, for I am the parasite of this town.”  Free Ride” is simply the best song on the album.  The guitar is broken, stopping and starting with poignancy and purpose, while the beat itself is trance like, and the lyrics as forlorn as ever: “Hear me calling, won’t you give me a free ride.”  The remaining two tracks are both short, impressive, basically unfinished songs, but strikingly different in lyrical content.  Harvest Breed” is much darker including the fateful line, “Falling fast and falling free, this could just be the end.”  While the closing “From the Morning,” ends things on a promising note, with a hopeful wish…almost giving faith that Drake would be alright, at least in the next life: “And now we rise/ And we are everywhere/ And now we rise from the ground/ …So look see the sights”                              

 

Just twenty-eight minutes of music.  Twenty-eight minutes of his strangely tuned guitar playing…twenty-eight minutes of that preoccupied voice.  “That’s it…that’s all I have” is what John Wood claimed Drake said at the end of the second recording session.  And apparently, that was indeed all he had, but not just in music…Only a few short weeks after the release of “Pink Moon” Drake moved back home to live with his parents, and almost immediately suffered a breakdown.  After spending five weeks recovering in a mental institute, he lived his remaining two years in his old childhood house, under the loving care of his parents, bouncing in and out of sanity.  Tragically, on November 24, 1974, Nick died in his sleep from an overdose of the anti-depressant Tryptizol.  It is still unknown if the overdose was an accident or a suicide…

 

But for all intents and purposes, after recording “Pink Moon,” Nick Drake was gone, lost in a mental madness, with only brief periods of clear.  Like “Oar” by Skip Spence, or Syd Barrett’s solo albums, “Pink Moon” is a snapshot of an artist at a tragically fragile state, but a snapshot that is both moving and beautiful.  Amazingly though, “Pink Moon” wasn’t the last recording session of Nick Drake’s career.  He did manage to phone John Wood and record five more songs just weeks before he passed away…

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