Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nick Drake 4: Time Of No Reply

The original version of the Fruit Tree box set consisted of Nick Drake’s three albums, with his four final recordings added to Pink Moon. In 1986, the box set was reissued with a fourth LP, including those four songs. Time Of No Reply has since gone out of print, but is essential for the completist. In addition to those last tracks, the bulk of the album is made up of outtakes from Five Leaves Left and various home demos.
The title track is a classic, with very clear, ringing guitar lines. It’s another pretty, deceptively cheerful-sounding melody. The middle section hints at the turmoil; he has pertinent things to say about the world around him, simple observations, but it seems to him no one wants to hear. However, “I Was Made To Love Magic” was given a dated arrangement with an uncomfortably affected vocal, understandably cast aside. “Joey” has a very mysterious mood, reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. The subject described is a guilty pleasure, though it’s hard to say if this siren can be considered a pleasure in the slightest. “Clothes Of Sand” is one of his best. The images are vague, but the overlying message that just enough has changed to turn everything in its wake upside down is clear. Either the person has changed, or his own perspective has been distorted that he doesn’t recognize what he once held familiar. “Mayfair” is a cute little sketch, possibly the single cheeriest song in his oeuvre. (Part of this was used later in a MetLife commercial, complete with the animated image of Snoopy skipping happily across the screen.)
The versions of “Man In A Shed” and “Thoughts Of Mary Jane” included here are more relaxed, and pleasant alternatives to their album counterparts. The home demo of “Fly” appears fully formed as we know it, with chirping birds and breezes taking the place of the keyboard and viola but not taking away the desperation in the vocal. Two other home demos make an interesting transition; “Been Smoking Too Long” was written by a friend of his about the dangers of opium, while “Strange Meeting II” dates from the same era, but the sound is better, as is the writing.
The final four 1974 recordings close the collection. “Rider On The Wheel” is very pretty, if a little basic and vague. You can hear just a hint of how weak his voice has become, a clue that is even more revealing in “Black Eyed Dog”. It has simple accompaniment with something of a dulcimer approach, but once he changes the melody in the middle section to a keening wail it’s clear he doesn’t consider the dog an ordinary stray. “Hanging On A Star” is very much in the vein of the transitional songs on Pink Moon; short and repetitive, yet effective. The middle verse, where he’s left abandoned at sea, is incredibly poignant in itself, made more so by his weary voice. “Voice From The Mountain” is a claustrophobic, straitjacketed arrangement in standard tuning, with his rigid fingerpicking a contrast to his more fluid style.
For the longest time, this was the last we heard of Nick Drake. Those wishing to hear more could only turn back to Five Leaves Left.

Nick Drake Time Of No Reply (1986)—3
Current availability: none

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