Nick Drake - Made To Love Magic
Most of what has surrounded Nick Drake since his death in November 1974 has been concerned with his withdrawal from even his closest friends during the last few years of his life. Even one of his closest friends, John Martyn, who has publicly spoken how Drake's death overshadowed the reputation of those left alive in the English folk scene, has said that Drake was, "the most withdrawn person I have ever met." The guitarist Richard Thompson understood Drake's quietness came from his wish to simply say in song anything that needed to be said, remembering that the long periods of silence that accompanied his work on Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter as never being uncomfortable.
There is a feeling of completeness, therefore, when all that was left of Nick Drake for the past thirty years of so was three albums - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon. Each album showed that Drake had an increasing understanding of his own music with Five Leaves Left being a record that shows a singer/songwriter coming to terms with the haunted, mysterious songs he was writing with Bryter Layter being a wonderful, upbeat recording from the heart of the English folk scene before the short, bleak Pink Moon concluded the series of albums produced by Drake during his lifetime. With a final session in 1974 leaving four songs, thought to be destined for a fourth album but never confirmed, Drake died at his parents' house and between than and the release of this album, only the release of Time Of No Reply offered any new material.
The earliest recordings on Made To Love Magic come from Nick Drake's time at Cambridge University, where he studied before dropping out to pursue a career in music. Drake's association with Robert Kirby led to the recording of two songs - Mayfair and an early version of River Man. The second of those songs would eventually appear on Five Leaves Left, forming the second of a pair of pastoral, upbeat songs that would open that album, the other being Time Has Told Me, each of which recall Drake's Cambridge, opposed to Mayfair, which offers the listener his early impressions of London.
Whilst those early songs date from Drake's days in Cambridge, Joey and Clothes Of Sand date from Drake's earliest sessions for the recording of Five Leaves Left but were discarded from the final tracklisting of the album. These two songs, alongside Magic and Time Of No Reply demonstrate how quickly Nick Drake was writing, recording and subsequently discarding material to hone his debut. In the case of these last two songs, Drake used Richard Hewson as an arranger but was unhappy with the results, eventually turning back to Robert Kirby whose arrangements remained only on paper until now. In preparing for the release of this album, Island asked Robert Kirby to return to these songs and to orchestrate an arrangement behind Drake's original vocal. The results, as written in this review of the single release of Magic, is a pair of richly autumnal songs that sound remarkably clear when placed against the rough edges that surround River Man and Mayfair. Elsewhere, Made To Love Magic has included alternative versions of other songs that would later appear on Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, including The Thoughts Of Mary Jane with Richard Thompson on guitar and a version of Three Hours with the Kwaakhu Baah on congas, giving the song the feel of its recording being an informal jam session of the kind one would never have imagined taking place with Nick Drake at its heart.
Lastly, Made To Love Magic includes a number of the songs that were on Time Of No Reply, which was originally issued as part of the Fruit Tree boxset before the shorter Way To Blue: An Introduction To Nick Drake was released. The final quartet of songs - Rider On The Wheel, Black Eyed Dog, Hanging On A Star and Voice From The Mountain - were mastered with a mono mix for Time Of No Reply but which have been remastered for Made To Love Magic with the exception of Voice From The Mountain, which, we can assume, has been omitted either to ensure collectors will continue to buy Time Of No Reply or has been held back for a future compilation. Of course, the most interesting news about the release of Made To Love Magic is the inclusion of Tow The Line, which was found at the end of a tape used by Joe Boyd during these sessions. As a song, Tow The Line gives the impression of Drake having achieved a feeling of contentment in his life, unlike the deep depression that accompanies Black Eyed Dog. As the album ends, the feeling remains that these are not songs we were to have heard and unlike, from a personal point of view, the release of My Bloody Valentine, Doors or Velvet Underground songs from the archives, such is the delicate nature of the Drake's legacy that one feels that an intrusion is occurring even by only listening to Made To Love Magic.
Yet this is not a difficult album to love with; in fact it would be more surprising if you did not. Nick Drake has a particular talent to speak directly to one's memories of events, no matter if those they real or only imagined. His songs, therefore, are appealing because they make us feel as if we've experienced more than we have. Regardless of whether we've ever fallen in love so deeply, Northern Sky makes us feel as though we have and despite never feeling so low as to sense depression hounding us, Black Eyed Dog gives us an insight into the bleakest moments of life. With both songs and as with the rest of his work, Nick Drake, like another great but short-lived songwriter, Robert Johnson, shows that a voice and a lone guitar can have as much power as a full band, more so when dealing with more delicate, fragile and fleeting emotions.
Despite all of these reasons, however, Made To Love Magic is not perfect and is not deserving of such a score. Each of the three albums produced by Nick Drake during his life is a complete work, even the twenty-eight minutes of sparse music on Pink Moon. Taking Nick Drake's death into account, one never felt as though there wasn't quite enough and Pink Moon had always felt like the conclusion to an admittedly short life. Even when including the four songs recorded in 1974, Black Eyed Dog felt like a final statement from a fragile soul too hurt to go on living yet Tow The Line shows there to have been moments of hope near the end, as though Drake's death was unintentional, that he was snatched away having left his life's work unfinished. The feeling on hearing Made To Love Magic end with the bump of a recording deck being switched off is that this is but the first of a series of further releases of material recorded by Drake but deemed, by him, to be unsuitable for release at the time. A little like the rush to commit to tape anything offered by Brian Wilson during the years following the aborted Smile album - years in which the most slender of songs would be dragged out of Wilson as he would be forcibly sat in front of a piano - Drake's ghost will not be let rest with, one suspects, further albums of demos and outtakes originally thought unsuitable for release.
Yet regardless of these thoughts, Made To Love Magic is a great album, showing why Nick Drake remains in the mind of those who experience even a brief hearing of his work. Rarely will there ever be as little music as Drake left to justify one's opinion of a songwriter as being a genius but the slim collection of albums he left is more than enough. Made To Love Magic adds little, to be honest, and is largely unnecessary against the original set of Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon but is no less welcome because of it.