Saturday, January 8, 2011

Listening Mode : Bryter Layter

In the mail yesterday, Nick Drake's second album, 1971.

Now here’s a fine album…

Why haven’t bought it before, I’m not sure. I am an avid Nick Drake fan, having been playing his debut “Five leaves left” and closing statement “Pink Moon” over and over for years, but I never managed to get a copy of the second one, “Bryter Layter”.

Well, there are reasons for that omission : while a great album in its own right, I believe “Bryter Layter” to be slightly inferior to its siblings.

It’s very short, for one thing : 10 tracks, and 3 of them are rather forgettable instrumental oddities that tend to verge on the easy listening (notably “Bryter Layter”, “Sunday” and their ghastly flute soloing).

The remaining 7 songs are beautiful, but suffer occasionally from awkward arrangements. The subtle drumming, the female choir are all right, but cheesy electric guitars and saxophones sound a bit off.

But anyway, it’s a nice album, Drake’s most poppy and mainstream effort, and yet, another failure that sent the aloof musician into the blackest pit of depression.

Nick Drake had predicted his own future on the first album : “So men of fame can never find a way - Till time has flown far from their dying day”.

Maybe that's why this “Bryter Layter”, for all its cheeriness, has a tragic flavor in retrospect. Where “Five leaves left” was melancholy and subdued, “Bryter Layter” sounds happy and hopeful. The third chapter, “Pink Moon” would reflect bitterness and despair.

Drake would then retreat deeper and deeper into isolation, lamenting his obscurity, seemingly unable to write. Coming back to the studio in 1974, rehashing older works, he can’t focus enough to sing and play his intricate guitar parts at the same time. He confides to a friend : « I can't think of words. I feel no emotion about anything. I don't want to laugh or cry. I'm numb… dead inside ». Not long afterwards, the singer dies of a drug overdose. Suicide ? Accident ? Freudian slip ? Who knows… the fact of the matter is, Nick was a misfit.

If there was only one reason to acquire this gem, it’s the other-worldly beauty of "Fly", surely one of my ten favorite songs ever.


Brent said...

This was also in the soundtrack to the movie The Royal Tenenbaums along with a couple other Nick Drake songs I believe. Love your blog man!

khoral said...

Indeed... my favorite movie for a long period of time, I'm a huge Anderson fan.

He did a very clever use of pop music in this one, especially bringing back from the dead the Dylan oddity "Wigwam", and a soundtrack that also features Nico's "These Days", man, this is what I call classy.

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