Pink Moon, the third and final album by English musician Nick Drake, makes a strong case for being his best. Released in February 1972, only two years before Drake’s tragic antidepressant overdose in November 1974, the lyrical content of the album has long been regarded as a manifestation of Drake’s long-standing battle with depression, although there are many moments across it that argue otherwise.
Inextricably tied to his battle with his demons, as Nirvana’s In Utero is with Kurt Cobain, it’s reductive to think of it plainly as so. It’s so much more than that.
One reason for this is that the songs are noticeably shorter than those on his previous albums, and its running time clocks in at just over 28 minutes, which some have taken to mean that Drake was finished with music and with life. This is understandable, as, for every listener of Pink Moon, it is hard to escape the spectre of Drake’s depression, and the stripped-back style of the album only serves to tie the two together.
It’s a beautiful, haunting and surreal album, and in many ways, it is Nick Drake at his finest. The middle portion of lyrics of ‘Place To Be’ are the most pertinent he ever conceived: “And I was green, greener than the hill / Where flowers grow and the sun shone still / Now I’m darker than the deepest sea / Just hand me down, give me a place to be”.
One would argue that this wasn’t necessarily Drake talking about his depression, but about growing older, and the journey that the album takes you on reflects the journey from innocence to experience. In that one portion of lyrics, Drake’s poetic genius manages to evoke two of the greatest poets the world has seen.
The overarching themes of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience colour his words, as does Dylan Thomas’ pastoral lament, Fern Hill. Extending this exploration of the effects of time, the album artwork is similar to Salvador Dali’s 1931 surrealist masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory.
Pink Moon also deviates from the previous Nick Drake creative standard in the way that the absence of the backing band is perhaps more of a powerful compositional technique than including it. This allowed Drake’s musicianship and his lyrics to bounce freely in the space, whirling around you in some languid, phantasmal sort of way. On Pink Moon, Drake broke through to the next stage of his career, and this was a part of it. He’d flourished.
The use of other instruments aside from the acoustic guitar remains a brilliant minimalist choice, giving us the sense of being alone with Nick Drake. It’s as if he’s conversing with himself, and we, the listener, are eavesdropping on it, hoping for the nuggets of wisdom that we all love him for today, and he does not disappoint.
This solitary feeling is given credence by the fact that prior to the recording of the album Drake had been suffering a crippling bout of depression and had isolated himself in his London flat. Undoubtedly, elements of his mental health struggle have imbued themselves in the record, such as the last lyric on ‘Things Behind The Sun’, “And the movement in your brain / Sends you out into the rain.”
It’s clear that Pink Moon is not a wholesale manifestation of Drake’s isolation, though. Rather, it is a wholesale manifestation of his talent. He had a knack for sparse songwriting, and creatively, it is brilliant, and nothing like anybody else was doing at the time.
Dispelling many myths about the state that Drake was in when writing the album, Drake had actually emerged from his period of isolation and depression when writing the album, and the hopeful album closer ‘From The Morning’ confirms this. If anything but tracing the passage of time, the album recounts a journey into the jaws of depression and back out of it again.
Cally Calloman of Bryter Music, who manages Drake’s estate maintains: “Nick was incapable of writing and recording while he was suffering from periods of depression. He was not depressed during the writing or recording of Pink Moon and was immensely proud of the album.”
The song ‘Parasite’ also works to dispel the rumours that Pink Moon is solely concerned with Drake’s depression. A cutting social commentary, in which Drake likens humans to parasites, it’s another one of his finest lyrical turns. Musically as well, it’s carried by a hypnotic melody, and it set a precedent for the type of moves that Radiohead would employ across their career with songs such as ‘Pyramid Song’ and ‘(Nice Dream)’. This was thought-provoking stuff, encouraging you to think more laterally than anything that had come before it.
A stellar album from start to finish, and a real journey, regardless of what may or may not have inspired it, Pink Moon is an absolute masterpiece, and we’ll continue to be talking about it and Nick Drake for a very long time. A multi-faceted record, which is outstanding for something so sparse, you can revisit it time and time again and find something new, a testament to Nick Drake’s genius.
Listen to Pink Moon in full below.