Nick Drake’s second album might have been a distinct departure from the pastoral identity of his first album Five Leaves Left, but it is no less folk music because of it. While critics at the time described the album as an awkward mix of folk guitar and cocktail jazz, the record is more a folk album with pop dealings in today’s music terms.
Lyrics like the struggles in “Poor Boy” and the odd comparisons to the singer and items he could have been such as clocks, sailors, I think he even called himself …a door knob… in the song “One of These Things First” feels like a songwriter on the verge of some great musical or philosophical discovery, yet unable to fully complete the vision he has due to some divine or mental hindrance.
While I would say that Nick was suffering from depression during this period in time, such wouldn’t be the case. During writing and recording sessions, Drake was at his highest in terms of optimism. While his recordings would often reflect his mood both lyrically and instrumentally, there was a sense of passion that Nick Drake placed into each of his songs, a passion that, having both dark and optimistic undertones, creates a unique experience for the listener full of magic and sound mourning.
Like an omniscient journey of observations and clear eyes, Bryter Layter is an album that shines brightest when it reaches what is likely the most popular song on the album, “Northern Sky”. The most quiet song on the album, it plays to this grandeur of the northern sky, where “Moons knew the meaning of the sea”. In a passing sense, this song is one of a peace that already exists, while still longing for the love that peace should bring. Though it may be a stretch to say that Nick Drake yearned for the love of a compassionate woman, I don’t think the song is an affirmation of life, so much as it is an affirmation of the will to live until your dead, whether that time comes now or much later in the future. This same life philosophy is a sentiment posed in many great works of literature and beyond.
Thus, that is the underlying meaning behind Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter; It is an album that never really ends in your mind and continues on with thoughts of door-like introspection, trees in nature and the allure of the comforting friends known as music. As Nick sings, “If songs were lines in a conversation / the situation would be fine”.