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Time Of No Reply - Nick Drake
Member Name: miriamb
Time Of No Reply - Nick Drake
Date: 31/07/02, updated on 31/07/02 (358 review reads)
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Nick Drake, born in 1948, sadly departed in 1974, released three albums during his brief career, Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970), and Pink Moon (1972). After his early death, a collection of further recordings was uncovered, pre-dating Five Leaves Left, and was released with his last known four recorded songs, as the collection Time of No Reply.
Falling into the folk-rock camp of Fairport Convention and Donovan and with followers such as Belle and Sebastian, and to a lesser extent, Black Box Recorder, Nick Drake was a singer-songwriter who, despite his limited releases, should not, in fact cannot, be overlooked. Gentle, wistful, thoughtful and fragile songs, accompanied most often by little more than his guitar, they touch the soul and gently prise open the door to your innermost emotions. There is no exciting drama that I can find in Nick Drake’s work, just a strikingly delicate melancholy, punctuated by occasional moments of optimism. He didn’t write dark songs, in the traditional sense, these are more an understated and fuzzy grey that is entirely accepting of the clouded, depressive world, as he saw it. This is a lazy Sunday afternoon, with rain tapping incessantly against the window, an overcast winter morning. Persistently and tragically numb.
Time of No Reply consists of 14 tracks in all. Seven were recorded in sessions prior to the release of Five Leaves Left. The two tracks ‘Man in a shed’ and ‘The thoughts of Mary Jane’ appeared on Five Leaves Left, but the versions on this collection are earlier, devoid of
any tinkering. The latter of these two is however one of only two songs that utilises instrumentation other than the voice and guitar of Nick Drake himself. (The other is ‘I was made to love magic’.)
Three tracks (including Bryter Layter's 'Fly') are home recordings, and this is reflected in the sound quality. The final four are studio recorded, literally months before his death. These are more in keeping the Pink Moon album, in all its pared down, unpolished simplicity.
The CD starts with the title track and you are immediately met with the sound of the acoustic guitar and Drake’s gentle, breathy vocal. This is poetry to music in its most unpretentious form. If you have heard the collection entitled Way to Blue, the introduction album that showcases songs from each of the four releases, you will recognise this song as the autumnal track 7.
“Summer was gone and the heat died down
And autumn reached for her golden crown
I looked behind as I heard a sigh
But this was the time of no reply”.
The next track is ‘I was made to love magic’, and features full orchestral accompaniment and a shuffling beat that is almost reminiscent of Cuban son or bolero, but not quite. The quiet English-ness prevents any direct association, but the undercurrent remains.
The almost metallic sound of the melodic strumming captured on the third track reminds me of All About Eve’s ‘Martha’s harbour’, the same sombre chord shifts and simple structure is apparent. Moving on to track 4, ‘Clothes of sand’, the guitar plays like gently rolling waves, supporting the lyrics perfectly:
“Clothes of sand have covered your face
Given you meaning but taken my place
So make your way on down to the sea
Something has taken you so far from me”.
Throughout the lyrics across the album there’s a great respect
for nature, pulling you back to the folkloric mysticism of rural England.
The first home recording is track 7, Fly, and it is noticeable that this was not taped in a studio environment. Don’t let this put you off though, as the raw, unrefined sound matches the lyrics and contributes to the sense of heartfelt desperation. This is a haunting, painful song, characterised by the repeated "Please", the intensity of which contrasts with the vocal throughout the remainder of the track. Drake’s already breathy voice in this highly emotional context could easily be heard as being sung through tears,
“Please, give me a second grace
Please, give me a second face
I’ve fallen far down, the first time around
Now I just sit on the ground in your way”.
A tragic and bewitching three and a half minutes, and I challenge you to remain unmoved. Although a more orchestrated version of this song also appeared on Bryter Layter, this is very much the more personal, truly raw version.
The mood picks up somewhat with the ethereal and dreamy ‘Thoughts of Mary Jane’, before moving on to the second home recording of the collection, ‘Been smoking too long’ with its definite blues feel. Again, the sound quality is lower than we’re used to, and this is reminiscent of an old blues record, you almost expect to hear the crackling of dusty vinyl.
Track 10, ‘Strange meeting II’ continues the themes of ‘Clothes of sand’ with its sea-blue dreams of tidal love and loss.
“Sometime when the summer nights come back
I’ll go back to the sea, follow that sandy track
I’ll look around, hope to find
That strange young dream, close behind
I’ll call her my princess of the sand”.
Tracks 11 to 14 were, according to the inlay notes, previously released on Pink Moon, but the Pink Moon that is c
urrently available doesn’t include them. The tracks fall into the guitar and vocals purity that typify Pink Moon and that Drake insisted on, following Bryter Layter’s orchestral magnificence. These songs, particularly tracks 12 and 13, ‘Black eyed dog’ and ‘Hanging from a star’, demonstrate the increasing depth of Drake’s depression, and document his descent into the bleak numbness of suicide. Of course, and in keeping with his work as a whole, they never fall into the harsh realms of bitterness, remaining as glistening dew drops on a spider’s web.
There are albums that make you dance, albums that make you sing, and albums that you jump around to and scream about the world. Then, there are albums like this, that you just sit quietly and listen to: music you feel.
I could go on but this review would just become hyperbole (if it hasn't already!)Don’t expect high levels of production or clever arrangements from Time of No Reply. If that’s what flicks your switch, try Bryter Layter and its full-bodied splendour. If you like beautiful, contemplative music, tinged with delicate vulnerability and a tender melancholy, this will be right up your street.
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Time of No Reply, running to a mere 43.5 minutes, is available singly from amazon at £14.99 and from hmv.co.uk at £18.99. It is also available as part of the Nick Drake box-set, The Fruit Tree, along with Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon, at £43.99 from amazon or £52.99 from hmv.co.uk. For the uninitiated, I would highly recommend the introductory Way to Blue, containing tracks from across the four CDs, which is less of an investment at the best price of £8.99 (inclusive of P&P) from play.com. Nick Drake’s 3 albums regularly pop up in the mid-price multi-buy offers in the high-street chains, so they are worth looking out for. Bear in mind however that Time of No Reply does not.
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For further info:
http://www.algonet.se/~iguana/DRAKE/DRAKE.html (esp. for lyrics)
http://sydtech.com/nickdrake2/default.htm (for MP3s)