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Nick Drake Time Of No Reply (1987)

Time Of No Reply coverFrom

Oh, I do like this one. Outtakes from sessions for all the three albums, plus a few alternate takes… mmm, yummy. Amazingly, they really sound way more polished and completed than much of the Pink Moon stuff, real songs that have been rejected for reasons only Nick would be able to clarify had he lived. Predictably, this is also the most ‘diverse’ of his albums, although granted, that’s not saying much.

There’s even a blues cover on here for Jesus’ sake, and it rules! Robin Frederick’s ‘Been Smoking Too Long’ is taken in the exact same muddy production style you’d hear on an early John Lee Hooker or even Robert Johnson record, with low-treble guitar and vocals that seem to be coming from the underground… what a MAH-vel. Of course, Nick couldn’t be mistaken for an old bluesman a thousand leagues away, but that doesn’t really matter as he manages to get the soul of the blues perfectly.

And on the other hand, you get some really strange stuff like ‘I Was Born To Love Magic’ that starts almost as a complaintive medieval ode and then suddenly changes into near-Hollywood glee midway through and then even incorporates a certain Easternish feel; definitely one of Nick’s best, and maybe the only song in his catalog to betray him as a child of the psychedelic era. (The word ‘magic’, anyone? Lovin’ Spoonful?).

And, of course, the powerful title track, which may or may not be the best one on here, but it sure as hell can count as one of Nick’s most convincing anthems ever. Where for Mr Dylan the times they were a-changin’, for Mr Drake time had no reply, as he just stands there with his completely isolated and misunderstood self and nobody in the world gives a damn. No wonder Drake never had any commercial success – a commercially successful priest of self-isolationism would be a mockery, much more so than a public-happy guitar-waving Bruce Springsteen. Beautiful song.

Another total marvel is ‘Clothes Of Sand’, another in a line of Drake’s chill-sending mystical tales with no clear interpretation. One of those neat vocal hooks when he goes ‘clothes of sand have covered your face, given you meaning but taken my place’… it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of emotional impact this line gives one, but one thing is obvious, the protagonist of the song is not at all similar to Drake’s ideal of ‘hazey Jane’, and the very idea of sporting ‘clothes of sand’ doesn’t seem like a particularly attractive one – so the song should be taken as a mighty condemnation epic, I guess.

And then you fall upon something timid, lightweight and innocent like the pretty jazzy ‘Mayfair’, just a little slushy romantic waltzing that can charm you into total oblivion for a couple minutes. And this interspersed with a home demo of ‘Strange Meeting II’, another lost love song with mystical overtones that’s totally involving yet I guess was left off the actual albums because Nick thought it too immature.

True enough, as good as the song is, in this case the lyrics are WAY too clear and metaphor-free to qualify along with Nick’s best, but any songwriter of lesser stature would sure kill for these lines.
And then there are all the outtakes of already known tunes – there’s ‘Fly’, which actually sounds cleaner and clearer than on Bryter Layter, and a slightly electrified version of ‘The Thoughts Of Mary Jane’ with Richard Thompson adding sharp but economic licks, and ‘Man In A Shed’, one of the best songs on Five Leaves Left. And none of the weaker songs off that album.

And finally, the record closes with four tracks recorded by Nick in February 1974, just before his untimely death, which don’t show any progression – stylistically, there’s not much departure from Pink Moon – but which are nevertheless interesting. Particularly the scary ‘Black-Eyed Dog’, with its haunting refrain (‘a black eyed dog he called at my door, a black eyed dog he called for more’), which certainly can seem creepy in the light of Nick’s unexpected death. One of those minimalistic, yet sharp-hittin’ folk tunes that really make you appreciate the genre. A bit unusual approach for Nick, too, what with the changed vocal intonations (impersonating an old beggar here, I guess?), and with some marvelous acoustic guitarwork.

Must say, though, that the other three songs fail to impress me all that much – in fact, I think they represent the weakest material on the record, kinda like the weak hookless material on Pink Moon. Which begs for a terrifying question, of course: maybe by 1974 Nick Drake was just totally drained artistically? Having said everything he really wanted to say on his first two albums and just a couple more things on the third one? Which would, of course, logically lead to the assumption that his death was suicide over frustration. Whatever. Nobody knows, and nobody will ever know.

In the meantime, just remember that this album is a worthy, if not actually equal, companion, to the regular studio albums, and I’d violently recommend it over Pink Moon, even. It rounds out Nick’s output almost perfectly, and actually, remember that songs that the artist did not want to have released during his lifetime often say just as much about the artist’s personality as those he wanted to have released.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Nick Drake Time Of No Reply | | Leave a comment