“Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club,” said Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s mother on hearing of his death. “That stupid club” referred, of course, to the select group of rock stars who die in their mid-20s – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison among them.
Although the circumstances of Nick Drake‘s death were slightly different, his passing was no less tragic. He was the antithesis of the rock ‘n’ roll animal, leaving behind just three albums of quiet, otherworldly beauty that were only truly appreciated after his death. His lifestyle too was worlds away from the likes of Hendrix and Morrison – the black depression that plagued him throughout his life left him hospitalised and often unable to function for days at a time. He died, aged just 26, in November 1974 from an overdose of anti-depressants.
Thirty years on, and Drake’s legend burns brighter than it ever did during his lifetime. His three albums are now regarded as classics and his influence can be heard on several of today’s artists, including Beth Orton and Kathryn Williams. Even Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt has revealed himself as an unlikely fan, narrating an upcoming BBC Radio Two documentary about the man.
Drake’s fans may have long ago given up hearing any new material from their hero, but Made To Love Magic will at last satiate their desire. It’s not a new album of course, but rather an album of rarities, out-takes, alternative versions of songs and the Holy Grail for Drake fans, an unreleased track recorded just a few months before his death.
Given such a tragic story, it would be understandable if the uninitiated were to approach a Nick Drake album with caution. Surely a mind so tortured could only produce music that is incredibly hard to listen to? The answer, thankfully, is no. Drake’s music, while being heart rendering and melancholy, could also be incredibly uplifting and peaceful. The arrangements on all tracks here are sparse, and for once the studio remastering has worked wonders – there are no dance remixes here, just some quietly sublime songs presented the way Drake intended them to be heard.
This collection really will have Drake fans salivating with excitement – one of his most loved tracks, River Man, is included without any orchestration and the stark accompaniment of the acoustic guitar makes the beauty of the song stand out all the more. There’s also an alternative version of Thoughts Of Mary Jane, which is even more blissful than the original found on his debut Five Leaves Left.
Drake is most famous for his songwriting, but he was also a superb guitar player. Three Hours is probably the best example of this here, with some truly awe-inspiring playing. The song itself is augmented with congo drums and a flute, and is even superior to the original.
Although there are signs of Drake’s fragile state of mind – Black Eyed Dog contains some harrowing imagery which becomes even poignant given his demise – there are happier moments here too. Mayfair could almost be termed jaunty, and sounds uncannily like Belle And Sebastian at times. The much vaunted unheard track, Tow The Line, exudes a peace and contemplation that ends the album on a surprisingly positive note.
Although new fans would probably be best advised to start their Drake collection with the excellent Way To Blue compilation, Made To Love Magic is a wonderfully unexpected treat for all admirers of a man who died far too early. An excellent addition to a small, yet flawless, legacy.