Like A Heart with Legs On

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 21, 2004 | Go to article overview

Like A Heart with Legs On


On Monday Island records will release Made To Love Magic, a 'new' album by Nick Drake - an album of rarities, remixes and a recently discovered song that has never been released and not heard since it was recorded back in 1974. Music critic PETER PAPHIDES examines why we can never get enough of Nick

With every passing year, it becomes a little less accurate to say that Nick Drake has a cult following.

Cults, by their very nature, tend to exist on the margins, the subject of their admiration unknown or even unloved by the vast majority of people.

Mention Nick Drake to a certain generation of music fan and chances are you won't have to explain yourself.

Latterly, Drake's name has become a byword for a certain kind of acoustic music.

Gentility, melancholia and a seemingly casual mastery of the fretboard - in the minds of many listeners, any combination of these traits warrants comparison to Nick Drake.

As a result, Drake is perpetually referenced across the reviews sections of every music title.

That quite often the records in question bear no meaningful resemblance to Drake's music speaks volumes. His legacy may, in one sense, be huge. But there's painfully little of it: just three complete albums - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later, Pink Moon and a final quartet of songs recorded shortly before his death.

As his relevance increases, so does an insatiable communal yearning for their source to yield more. Hence the constant namechecks.

Hence the constant repackaging and remixing of the same old bootleg recordings. Somehow we cannot quite accept the fact that this was all he left behind. Such a turn of events isn't without a certain irony.

Towards the end of his life, Drake appeared to long for the vindication that comes with commercial success.

And yet he seemed incapable of compromising himself to the pursuit of recognition. His shyness made interviews difficult.

Live performances became increasingly rare. When recording music, the only compass he used was his own intuition.

For Five Leaves Left, he asserted himself when he needed to - dispensing with the arranger suggested by Island and replacing him with his old Cambridge associate Robert Kirby.

Pink Moon was just Drake and a guitar, an exercise in intricate desolation, no less perfect for its stark brevity.

Commercial success may not have vindicated him, but the intervening years certainly have.

Five years ago, he entered the Billboard 100 (and the Amazon Top Five) for the first time. Thirty seconds of Pink Moon used in a Volkswagen advert alerted America to the otherworldly magic of Drake's hushed English tones.

His friend and label-mate Linda Thompson recalls recently hearing the song in LA over a supermarket tannoy, 'I couldn't believe how amazing, how 'right' it sounded. How did he 'know'?'

Writing about Drake, the late Ian McDonald attempted to put into words why Drake's music should have achieved such a relevance in the century after its creator brought it into being. In a celebrated essay, McDonald posited the suggestion that songs such as River Man and Way To Blue reconnect us with a part of our selves that modern life has all but eroded away. Certainly, much of his music is endowed with a peculiar prescience.

Over arrangements that seem to mimic the bustle of a world moving too fast, the prescient Hazey Jane II sees Drake impishly enquiring, 'And what will happen in the morning when the world it gets/So crowded that you can't look out the window in the morning.'

The manner in which Drake's life ended has inevitably coloured the way his songs are perceived: among them, the haunting Black-Eyed Dog and the self-mocking Poor Boy. 'Don't you worry,' he sings on Fruit Tree, 'They'll stand and stare when you're gone.'

In the liner notes to 1994's Way To Blue compilation, Drake's producer and mentor Joe Boyd commented that, 'listening to his lyrics. …

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