Nick Drake didn’t have a very good life. He had a quiet and reclusive demeanour, struggled to make eye contact and converse, and made very few friends during his short time on earth. After he left Cambridge University and began to pursue a musical career, he struggled to get a foothold in the folk scene and each of his albums was a failure, due to both the lack of marketing put into the projects and Drake’s disinterest in performing live. After his second album, Bryter Layter sold only 3000 copies, Drake retreated further from society and fell into a deep depression. He became further entrapped in a well of his loneliness and sadness, rarely leaving his apartment and stopping performing concerts altogether. Pink Moon, recorded over two days in the winter of 1971, portrays, heartbreakingly, Nick Drake at a time when he was falling into a suicidal mental state which unfortunately he would never be able to get out of.
The instrumentation on this album is incredibly sparse with one overdub of a piano, which features on the title track and album opener, being the only break from Drake’s quiet, pristine and perfect guitar playing. Musically, the theme remains the same throughout the album, with Drake playing out quaint folk melodies while he mumbles his way through his sorrowful poetry. The opening track, Pink Moon, seems to show Drake confronting the inevitable darkness that he believes will reach all people in the end. “None of you stand so tall/Pink moon gonna get you all” Drake murmurs. Is he referring to death? Or the onset of depression? Or even something else entirely? Either way, the opener shows perfectly the mental state of Drake during this time, as he appears to be retreating from the fight, accepting that he can do nothing to stop the inevitable decay that is oncoming.
Place To Be sees Drake reflecting upon his youth when he was happy and unburdened by the pressures of adult life. He looks back to his past with longing for the state of ignorance and unintelligence that he used to live in, before grim realisations began to cloud his view and steal his joy from him. After he talks of the transition from the brightness of youth to the darkness of adulthood, in the final verse he seems to accept that his days are numbered. “When I was strong in the sun/I thought I’d see when day was done/Now I’m weaker than the palest blue/So weak in this need for you” he says, seemingly referring to how he used to imagine that he would see out the duration of his life, but now he realises that he has no desire to continue living and is now craving the release of death.
On Road, Drake once again talks of the road he sees his life heading down. While those around him can see the brightness and joy in life, he can only see the negativity and gloom and he feels that he is only going to continue down this road of darkness until his life comes to an end. The next track, Which Will, sees Drake address those around him with disdain and bitterness. Whether he is referring to the lack of affection he gets from women or just people in general, or whether he is referring to the lack of commercial success he has achieved thus far in his musical career, this track sees Drake ask the subject or subjects of the song “which will you take now/if you won’t take me?”. It is on this track that we see Drake move away from inward analysis and begin to question those around him who won’t accept or love him. We feel in this song how disenchanted he has become with trying to find closeness or affection, and that he simply doesn’t understand what he must do to get the attention he so desires. The warmth that Drake showed during his life made people believe that he didn’t care too much for their companionship, but it is on this song that we see that Drake is just like the rest of us, desperately searching for belonging.
After the short instrumental interlude Horn, comes Things Behind the Sun, the most lyrically cryptic song on the album. Drake seems here to be talking to the listeners and telling them to have confidence in their convictions and beliefs, even if people think they are wrong or look down upon them. He also seems to be criticising people who have achieved success in their lives through unethical acts, and as a result of this undeserved success that some have achieved, he feels that the world is unfair and somewhere where he does not desire to be. Things Behind the Sun is the most biting and critical song on the album, but in some ways it conveys a positive message to its listeners as it tells them to believe in themselves and try to achieve success through honourable means in a world that is increasingly lacking in goodness, something that he has tried and failed to do.
The second side begins with the lyrically bare Know, before moving onto Parasite, a song which gives the clearest view on the album of what Drake thinks of himself. He describes the way he walks around London with his head bowed, almost like he’s cowering from functioning society. He hears the words that people on the underground say, but dismisses their issues as trivial, showing his growing detachment from his fellow man. He views himself as being beneath other people, as being worthless, before finally referring to himself as a parasite that crawls the floors of London. This feeling of self-worthlessness that Drake’s depression and loneliness has caused him to feel appears to be one of the key reasons that Drake withdrew further and further from other people, because he felt he was unworthy of them.
On the final two songs, the album seems to take a different direction, one that is almost optimistic. In Harvest Breed, a sense of acceptance seems to have washed over Drake as he speaks of “falling fast and falling free” seemingly into the afterlife. He approaches death, which he seems to think is waiting not too far down the road, with a sense of optimism and hope that whatever lies in wait must be better than his current state. And with the final track, Drake saves his most beautiful for last with the stunning From The Morning. With the backing of his perfectly plucked guitar, Drake sings of the beauty in nature, and how regardless of whether life is good or bad, solace can always be found in the purity of the earth. He tells his listeners to observe the beauty that can be found all around. “Go play the game that you learned from the morning” he sings to his audience, seemingly telling them that life is but a gift granted by the world, or “the morning” as he terms it, and that they should life their lives on their own terms, just as he does earlier in the album on Things Behind the Sun. This parting statement from Drake shows that despite his feeling that his life has gone down a route that cannot be reversed, he still believes that there is good in the world and that some people can achieve happiness.
Pink Moon is a masterpiece in introspection into the mind of someone living with mental illness. It showcases the fears and doubts of someone living with depression, of the hopelessness that they feel in themselves and in the society that surrounds them. We see how Drake is jealous of those who live happily and with love while he must toil away in depravity, and how he has run out of hope for the future. But we also see how, even though he feels his life has run its course and gotten away from him, he still believes that there can be good in the world and that people can achieve true happiness, even if he unfortunately cannot. Just as Drake assumed it would, his life sadly came to an end just two years after Pink Moon was released, but with this album he left a musical masterpiece that stands out as being one of the most moving and honest pieces of work ever and has helped many people with their struggles over the years.