Nick Drake: Bryter Layter

I don’t usually take part in the trend of mythologising mysterious and troubled troubadours who died young. Heroizing chronically depressed introverted songwriters has almost become a cliché; when you ask the shy, misty-eyed girl at school who her favourite artist is, she’ll almost undoubtedly say ‘Elliott Smith’ or ‘Jeff Buckley’ and make some comment about their self-destructive genius.

Nick Drake, then, seems like the total embodiment of this. But there isn’t a hint of self-pity nor any delusions of grandeur disguised under a sheet of sensitive modesty. When you strip back all the myth and enigmatic photos (above), there is music of unfathomable beauty and a voice like pastoral English wind. Howzat for teenage poetry?

As for the albums (the best being ’71’s Bryter Layter), Drake never put a foot wrong. When he died, he left a small but completely perfect musical legacy, though some of his less interesting demos, cover versions and unreleased material has been procured and released later by industry execs scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Bryter Layter is his lushest, most musical album. It counters the underproduced fatalism of ’72’s Pink Moon with elaborate, flowing string sections and somewhat of a ‘pop sensibility’, if such a thing can be measured in someone like Drake. For a singer-songwriter well-read in Romantic poetry, these songs (and their lyrics) gladly lack any Absinthe grandeur. It also contains Northern Sky, arguably his most extraordinary record.

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2 thoughts on “Nick Drake: Bryter Layter

  1. I’m finally listening to this due to your review along with hearing about this album over the years. Very, very nice and not at all what I expected. I knew about his depression so I expected a gloomy, moody album. But regardless of what the lyrics might say, it’s a very lilting, melodic album.

    For whatever reason I expected just him and guitar but it’s also got nice piano and sax and in that respect, reminds me (loosely) of Van Morrison. You singled out ‘Northern Sky’ but I found myself partial to ‘Poor Boy.’ I loved its jazziness, the backing vocals and the chorus, which reminded me a little bit of Traffic’s ‘Feelin’ Alright. The only thing I wasn’t too crazy about were a couple of instrumental things that sounded a little too poppy, a little too bit much like ‘soundtrack for two lovers walking in the woods.’

    But, a relatively minor quibble. A really nice album. What about his other stuff? Worth a listen?

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  2. Yes, there are a couple of maybe overly pastoral, sweet acoustic instrumentals, but I agree also that Poor Boy is an excellent track, and you’ve made me go back and listen to ‘Feelin’ Alright’. Same kind of loose, swingy feel.

    The album with just him, his guitar and his depression would be ‘Pink Moon’. An album I listen to very rarely due to its stark, bleak parts but one that I reccomend as well. Moments of uplifting beauty as well. Glad to be the bringer of good sounds 😉

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