Acclaimed Albums – Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 140/250Title: Five Leaves Left
Artist: Nick Drake
Year: 1969
Position: #157

To go back and experience classic albums, films and TV shows is to come into contact with the many stories (both heroic and tragic) of their creators. Recently, the untimely death of Carole Lombard and depression of Rita Heyworth have formed the kick-off points of blog posts. Today, we’re keeping on with the tragedy with the music of Nick Drake – who died of an overdose at the tender age of 26 in what was a possible suicide (although this is still up for debate).

You would be forgiven for not knowing who Nick Drake is. He died in relative obscurity and has been subject to a re-evaluation. His debut album Five Leaves Left and follow-up Bryter Layter are now seen as classics of the folk rock genre. If you have even a toe in the water of contemporary folk musicians you can see how the music of Nick Drake has influenced the likes of Beck, Laura Marling, Jeff Buckley and Mount Eerie.

I don’t know if it is because I’m listening to the 2004 re-mastered edition or just the quality of the album itself, but this could have been released now. It’s difficult to find an album from the 1960s that feels truly timeless, usually there’s a contemporary trend or technological limitation that gives it away. I am guessing that this was what prevented this from being noticed?

It sounds hyperbolic, but listening to this album on good headphones just transports you. The guitar is so ridiculously perfect that it doesn’t feel of this world. Similarly, the production on some songs (such as ‘Three Hours’) somehow creates this cavernous world where all the layers feel just out of reach. It’s similar to what The xx do.

Then you have the many tracks with incredibly vibrant strings. The tracks still feel as if they are being played in an observatory tower, but there’s more warmth to these thanks to the added complexity. Also, there’s sometimes a conga drum being played which is a bit unusual… then again it does fit in with the album.

Honestly, this is an album that surprised me. I was expecting something a bit melancholic (which this is) and folksy – that’s it. Instead I have an album with an emotional affect that makes you both want to reach out to Nick Drake and respect the level of detatchment that he is fostering. It isn’t a brooding album, it’s a profoundly beautiful one that really should have gotten some notice back in 1969. Maybe if it had… well we’ll never know.

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