As lovely in photographs as Ophelia about to float down the river, with the gentlest voice and most delicate sense of phrasing to come out of the Renaisance Faire of late '60s English folk rock, Nick Drake is a perfect muse for arty girls and boys just cracking their first volume of Keats's collected letters. It helps that Drake died in the dark bloom of his youth, overdosing on antidepressants in his childhood bedroom at age 26, in 1974. It also doesn't hurt that he wrote incessantly about his growing melancholia, setting his spare verses to arrangements filigreed with cello and flute, or just his own elaborate finger-picking on guitar. Discovered by folk impresario Joe Boyd while still at Cambridge, Drake recorded his first album, Five Leaves Left, at age of twenty, but like the tubercular poet he so resembled, he already seemed aware that his time on the sod would be short.
The comparison to Keats is apt; whether consciously or not, Drake seemed to write from the Keatsian principles of negative capability and detachment: the ability to rest within mystery and not to seek answers, and the talent to leave one's ego behind and become absorbed in the fleeting beauty of the world. Many of his songs are in the second person, describing his intense loneliness and desire for communion in cool detail. The lyrics often invoke fairy tales or classic poetic images ("I never saw magic crazy as this/ I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea," he sings in "Northern Sky,"( the song from Bryter Later that many aficionados consider his apotheosis ), but they're never florid. Drake's extreme depression tempered his extreme romanticism. The songs testify both to the seductiveness of pretentious dreams and to the knowledge that such wistful hopes always fail.
Lo-fi purists should stay away from the first two albums and go directly to Pink Moon , Drake's final complete work. Only Drake's whispery vocal and forceful guitar, with an occasional dab of piano, shape these songs, whose titles are all fragments or single words. Unlike other "mad records" by artists such as Daniel Johnston or Syd Barret, Pink Moon's rough soul bears the smoothest of edges. The melodies still seduce, their execution still soothes.


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