It is tempting to look for clues on Made To Love Magic as to what it was that made Drake the man he was, what it was that has so separated him from his many long haired peers. Early recordings from his college years, such as Mayfair and Made To Love Magic itself, however, do little more than to provide a whimsical glimpse of the beginnings of a songwriting talent, and it soon becomes clear that, once again, it will not be possible to really get a grip on the essence of Nick Drake and his music and, perhaps, this is as it should be.
Better-known songs, such as Thoughts Of Mary Jane and River Man are found here in new interpretations, which, while still captivating, do little to improve upon the original recordings. The versions of more obscure songs, however, such as Time Of No Reply and Joey, do much to add to Drake's cannon. Joey in particular manages to capture the sense of wistful disenchantment that so defines much of his work.
Those who knew Nick Drake are said to find the tracks from his final recording session too harrowing to actually enjoy. Recorded alone a year after the release of his last proper album, and the master tape then found left on the reception desk of his record company, these are the songs that have done the most to advance the legend of Drake as tortured artist. After the sparse sound of Rider On The Wheel and Voices, this album finishes with Black Eyed Dog and Tow The Line. It would be no mere hyperbole to claim Black Eyed Dog as the darkest and most hopeless expression of the blues that a middle-class white man could ever be unfortunate enough to articulate in song. Bringing to mind Churchill's description of the 'black dog' of depression that he was never able to shed, Drake, at the tender age of twenty-five, seems to have run out of any sense of hope and is left utterly alone with his inner demons. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the album, however, is Tow The Line, the only truly new song of Drake's to have been discovered. Found hidden at the end of one of his final recordings, it turns out to be a strong and focused track. Although again based upon a solitary blues-like riff like Black Eyed Dog, it seems to show a new sense of resilience and self-belief in the face of his despair.
If you want to buy an introductory Nick Drake album, this is not the one. Start with the compilation Way To Blue, or, even better, make your way through the three original albums, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon, all near impossible to fault. But if you are already under the spell of Drake, Made To Love Magic can bring great pleasure. Whilst there is nothing on the album as unearthly and as beautiful as his masterpiece Northern Sky from Bryter Layter, there is still plenty to enchant. And so the cult of Nick Drake endures and the lyrics to one of his first recorded songs continue to sound more prescient by the day.
“Fame is but a fruit tree
So very unsound.
It can never flourish
Till its stock is in the ground.”
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