Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Nick Drake -- Pink Moon
Hannibal Records, 1972; Island Records; 2003

I'll admit that I've received some pretty screwed up phone calls from friends. "Steve? I think Peter is going to kill himself." It's one of those things that you hope won't ever have to deal with; it seems too much like something that would happen in a movie. Pink Moon is the closest thing to that sort of phone call that I've ever heard. Peculiarly beautiful and gloomy, Nick Drake reached out for help on what would be his last album, only to find none.

Pink Moon is a startling departure from Drake's previous albums. Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter were both filled with ballads of loneliness like Pink Moon, but both were enriched by either a folk rock backing or brisk orchestral arrangement. Instead, Pink Moon is stripped to the bare bones of Drake as a singer/songwriter: acoustic guitar and vocals. This singularity is a more than coincidental expression of Drake's melancholy; pushing away musical help in hopes to find emotional solace.

From the beginning of the album, it's clear that Drake's decision to play the album by himself was not a mistake. With only himself in the spotlight, Drake's guitar playing truly shines. His nimble fingerpicking weaves a blanket of sound in each song without a single misstep. Drake crafted the musical landscape for sorrow-filled lyrics with the guitar, forming quiet countrysides where his bittersweet voice could ring out. Songs like "Place to Be", "Road", and "Things Behind the Sun" create moods so telling that Drake's lyrics dont need much to convey their message. In fact, the instrumental "Horn" puts all Drake's emotions into note form -- so bleak, so beautiful, so needy.

Not one to create a half-perfect album, Drake's voice and lyrics are what take this album from classic to crucial. Vocally, Drake is no giant, as his velvet voice is more suited for soothing children. Without delving deep into metaphors to express his despair, each lyric delivers an emotional blow. Knowing how his story ends, it's hard not to find the lyrics "And I was strong, strong in the sun / I thought I'd see when day was done / Now I'm weaker than the palest blue / Oh, I'm so weak in this need for you" from "Place to Be" to be heart-wrenching. The harrowing delivery of "Know" makes me well up with tears as he croons "Know that I love you / Know that I don't care / Know that I see you / Know that I'm not there." This resignation of hope is like Drake's acceptance of what will end up as his fate.

Although both Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter are both quality albums, I believe that it's on Pink Moon that Drake proves he one of the most influential and important singer/songwriters of all time. His influence can be seen in both the folk rock and singer/songwriter genres, with Elliot Smith, Belle & Sebastian, Will Oldham, and Iron & Wine all paying homage in their songwriting. With the recent reissue of Pink Moon, a whole new generation of music listeners will have the chance to answer the call that Drake made so many years ago and prove that his suffering was not in vain.

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