Records Revisited – Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

»Pink Moon«, Nick Drake’s last studio album released in 1972, is considered a masterpiece of indie folk. For a long time it was understood as the music of a person suffering from depression. Perhaps this reading needs to be reconsidered.

Nick Drake is not an artist who easily ranks with the greats of 1970s pop culture. You won’t find a glorious pathos like Elton John could convey or a chameleon-like changeability à la David Bowie. The Briton didn’t have a large audience during his lifetime anyway; although his three albums received positive reviews from the music press, they did not sell. It was only through the use of his songs in indie films such as Garden State or in a VW commercial in the 90s that Drake posthumously rose to become a cult classic of indie folk. Nick Drake’s persona is remembered as extremely shy, almost shadowy. He avoided pop culture’s circus, gave no interviews, and rarely took to the stage for a live performance. His shy personality is reflected in many stories: an employee of Island Records, Drake’s label, recalls how Drake strolled into the office one afternoon as if by chance, stayed for a cup of tea, and vanished not without secretly leaving a bad with the tapes of »Pink Moon« with the secretary. This seclusion is attributed not only to his timid nature, but also to his ongoing struggle with depression. Just three years after the release of »Pink Moon« in 1971, Nick Drake died of an antidepressant overdose.

In retrospect, among his works especially »Pink Moon« is attributed to Drake’s depression due to its sparse instrumentalization, short running time of only 28 minutes and profound lyrics. His illness could hastily be understood as the defining feature of his work and himself as an artist who has perished in himself. However, Drake’s estate manager says he was in good spirits during the writing and recording of the album and very proud of the end result. During particularly depressive phases, he didn’t have the capacity for creativity. This view is supported by the fact that although Drake’s lyrics convey a deep sense of negativity and alienation from his peers, he encounters his environment with curiosity and attentiveness. Nature in particular seems to have been a place of refuge for Drake, both in his lyrical realm and the real world. His lyrics are characterized by stories about a mystical moon, the coming and going of days and images of lush green landscapes. Drake’s metaphors are intertwined with intimate insights, at times so cryptic that one can only guess at the content. Elsewhere, the same motifs repeatedly come up, such as the pain of a one-sided love in “Which Will” and the feeling of not having found your place in life in “Place To Be” and “Parasite”. A feeling of constant questioning resonates throughout the album: Where do I want to go? Where do I feel good?

This observation that »Pink Moon« is characterized by an abundance of impressions instead of depressive apathy arises not least from the musical aesthetics. Drake’s calmingly soft and innocent-sounding voice is paired with a subtle arrangement consisting mostly of acoustic guitar only. There is a feeling of sensitivity that transports less weariness than curiosity. It is the interplay of Drake’s intricate way with words, his attention to nature and his gentle aesthetic that leads to the conclusion that »Pink Moon« should not serve to romanticize tragic clinical pathologies, but rather be seen as the astonishing work of an artist who, despite mental illness, created one of the most influential folk albums. With that, his last album closes with »From the Morning«, a track with a particularly strong glimmer of hope: »So look see the days, the endless colored ways, go play the game that you learned, from the morning. «

Nick Drake
Pink Moon
Universal • 1972 • from 28.99€