Pink Moon, English singer-songwriter Nick Drake”s final album before his suicide at the age of 26, has had its legacy tarnished by critics who insist on interpreting it solely in terms of how it was recorded.
Drake, in the throes of clinical depression that was only exacerbated by the commercial failure of his first two albums, 1969″s Five Leaves Left and 1970″s Bryter Layter, decided to make his next album a stripped-down affair just him, his acoustic guitar and a few seconds of piano on the title track. When Drake decided to reenter the studio, his engineer John Wood told him it was totally booked and that any recording sessions would have to happen after hours. So Drake and Wood spend two late nights alone recording and mixing Pink Moon, hardly talking.
With Pink Moon completed, Drake retreated to his parents” house and was prescribed anti-depressants. Although those who interacted with him during that period of his life occasionally saw him in fairly good spirits, Drake”s depression generally got worse. On Nov. 25, 1974 he took a fatal dose of the anti-depressant Tryptizol. Drake didn”t leave a suicide note, causing some to speculate that his death was accidental.
More than one reviewer has described Pink Moon as “ominous,” and it is. Clearly Drake contemplated making his final exit when he wrote “Road” (“You can take the road that takes you to the stars now/ I can take a road that”ll see me through”) and “Harvest Breed” (“Falling fast and falling free you look to find a friend/ Falling fast and falling free this could just be the end”).
Sure, Pink Moon is a sad and occasionally morbid album, but contrary to what rock critics have been suggesting for decades by inextricably intertwining it with the conditions under which it was recorded, its appeal is universal, or at least extends far beyond black clad clove smokers.
In as much as Drake”s songs on Pink Moon are “ominous” they are also deeply personal. Whereas the XY side of the folk singer-songwriter gender divide seems to be populated by either storytelling artists like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie or wussy sentimentalists like Cat Stevens and James Taylor, Pink Moon stakes out new territory by heading in the direction of Joni Mitchell”s Blue album.
Blue is one of those albums that creates a sort of two-way relationship between artist and listener by the end of “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” you almost feel like you”ve just finished an intense conversation. She”s laid it all out for you getting jilted by her lover, the drugs, the post- “60s cynicism
With Pink Moon, the listening experience is similar. Drake”s virtuosity on the acoustic guitar easily rivals Mitchell”s, but equally importantly the album shares the conversational, confessional tone that permeates Mitchell”s best records.
Thematically, Pink Moon is far more melancholy than Blue, but it”s about more than plain and simple despair. Drake shares with us his sense of professional inadequacy in “Things Behind the Sun” (“And open wide the hymns you hide/ You”ll find renown while people frown/ At things that you say”). On “Parasite,” he cryptically discusses his upper-crust upbringing (“Falling so far on a silver spoon/ Making the moon for fun/ Changing the rope for a size too small/ People all get hung”). The most harrowing song on Pink Moon is the four-line love song “Know,” (“Know that I love you/ Know I don”t care/ Know that I see you/ Know I”m not there”).
Drake communicates an overall sense of dread on Pink Moon like something is about to catch up with him. The whole album has, in fact, been compared to blues legend Robert Johnson”s foreboding “Hellhound On My Trail” and it”s on this level where the typical listener can meet Drake head on. Drake”s “hellhound” may have been his depression, but that doesn”t mean listeners all have to be suicidal to appreciate his musicianship.
Instead of having anxiety about killing yourself you could be slacking off in your classes, smoking too much, worrying about the moron in the White House, doing too many drugs, cheating on your significant other, drinking too much or whatever life provides plenty of opportunities to be anxious about the future. Still there will always be a select few albums to turn to and two of them are Blue and Pink Moon.