There are no laws of science governing a man's legacy. Its properties continue to go unstudied and we don't quite know what makes it tick, but surely it exceeds the speed of light at times and exists for small seconds both everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Why is there any debate about life after death? We do have and have always had our answer right here. Yes Virginia, there is a life after life and with it comes all the trappings of the fickle divide between the mundane and the mystic that haunts us in our corporeal stage. There's really nothing I can say about Nick Drake that hasn't already been written about, thought about, glamorized, dwelled upon or dissected. He left us achingly little but in a sense it is the perfect amount. There is something so beautifully self-contained about his body of work, so seamlessly flowing, that one could unlock that weighted watchword from its vault and call his career, perfect.
With each new detail we learn about Nick's short life, each new recording outtake of his that surfaces, each biography that is penned, each new BBC radio special on him hosted by none other than Brad Pitt that airs, and each new Cabrio that is sold as the buyer whispers in passing, "pink, pink, pink," not knowing why; the point is made vibrantly clear that a man's legacy is in the hands of seemingly everyone but the man himself. Nick was a staunch perfectionist, and of all his work that has been posthumously made public, it has to be wondered where his approval would lie. Surely he would be inconsolable at the knowledge of his intimate and personal home recordings being passed about as they were with the Tanworth-In-Arden collection. One of the tracks on the aforementioned collection consists simply as a barely audible early morning recounting of his attending a fete the night before and driving drunk on the way home. But this is the caveat of the notoriety that Nick ached for so tirelessly. Fame is indeed a fruit tree, but it is also a cavity search. This is tenfold the case when such an aura of inscrutability surrounds the famed. We want it all. Most Nick Drake fans are de facto completists, as so little was left to us, so when an unknown and unheard song of his was recently discovered at very end of a session tape, a collective beat was skipped in the hearts of his devoted everywhere. It is on this impetus that Island has released Made To Love Magic, a collection of remastered versions of his last known recorded songs, alternate versions of a few songs from his three proper studio releases, and "Tow The Line," the newly discovered completion to his canon.
At the helm of this project is John Wood, Nick's original recording engineer; and Robert Kirby, a friend and collaborator from his days in Cambridge. While obviously left in knowing hands, arguments can be made in either direction that certain things are best left untouched by modern digital restorations. I for one had misgivings at the thought of such a frail plea for help as "Black Eyed Dog" being polished and refinished, but actually the new version impresses, with the acoustic panned more towards the center to match up perfectly with a delicate and frightened wail of a voice, feeding the haunting portrayal of a lone figure lost to the outside, a fixed gaze trained on his inward despair. It is also a testament to the sheer timelessness is his music that remastering does nothing to diminish the intimacy of the listen. "Clothes Of Sand" and "Joey" sound as good as ever in their Elizabethan requiems of lost love and lovers lost; and in truth, aside from a picky ear, it is difficult to notice the changes made since they first graced the Time Of No Reply collection.
The term freeform is one that has always been anathema to the works of Nick Drake. Highly scripted in arrangement and performance, not much was ever left to chance in his studio work. It is for that reason that one of the most interesting tracks on this collection is a version of "Three Hours" featuring eventual member of Traffic, the late "Reebop" Kwaaku Baah on congas, and an unnamed person lending flautist duties. The version here is longer with a much more interpretive percussive style which arises an interesting pairing between a relaxed, almost jam-like attitude and the well known ominous progression of a man "in search of a master, in search of a slave." Another high point must certainly be "Magic" (also referred to as "Made To Love Magic") with Kirby bringing back a much more embellished original string arrangement that he had written for the song in its first incarnation but never existed anywhere but on paper until now. The harmony swells infuse the song with a deep luxurious texture and offers a slightly less bohemian affair than was once ascribed to it. Of course the main interest and selling point of Made To Love Magic is the unheard and long lost track "Tow The Line," which features a relatively calm and detached Drake plucking a minor augmented pattern while musing "This day is the day that we rise or we fall/ This night is the night that we win or lose all." In its tone, it recalls "Harvest Breed" off Pink Moon, and while not as affecting or strong as anything on that record, it is vintage Drake through and through, ending with the sound of him setting down his guitar after the last chord fades out. It's eerie how poignant that gentle thud of wood against floor is in this situation.
Avid fans will not be disappointed. People wishing to know what all the fuss is about, however, will probably want to start elsewhere. There are no great surprises one is likely to happen upon here, but then again that was really never the point of listening to Nick Drake in the first place. We listen to find a voice for our unkempt malaise and to lose ourselves in simple pastoral elegance. For a brief time, we see the things behind the sun that are always there for those who care to look for them. Very likely, this could be the last word on Nick Drake, in audio form at least. By now we know the painful irony of his life and legacy. The former, a lesson to us all on the deadly sin of neglected beauty; the latter held safe and secure in loving and tender hands aplenty. I like to think he would approve.
1. Rider on the Wheel
3. River Man
5. Thoughts of Mary Jane
7. Hanging on a Star
8. Three Hours
9. Clothes of Sand
11. Time of No Reply
12. Black Eyed Dog
13. Tow the Line