If music were exclusively about beauty, then this could be one of the best albums ever made.
Nick Drake’s first record, “Five Leaves Left,” consisted mostly of understated personal observations with tasteful accompaniment, but here the arrangements burst into full bloom, a stunningly disciplined bouquet of songcraft that remains unsurpassed for sheer gorgeousness. Three songs on “Bryter Layter” don’t even have lyrical accompaniment, a highly unusual choice for a singer-songwriter trying to make a statement, but Drake’s sensitivity informs the lushness of “Introduction” and the title track, allowing them to somehow say more with melody than most artists could convey in an entire career. These songs set the table for the wealth of material that surrounds them.
As a songwriter, Drake is not so much a poet as he is a confessor of his feelings. Some words rhyme awkwardly, but the whispered intimacy of his singing voice makes every note sound like a deep secret being shared. He plainly wears his heart on his sleeve, and this vulnerability only adds to the emotional intensity of each track. “Fly” is so precious and beautiful that it feels as though it could be bruised if overanalyzed. Even silly couplets take on the weight of Drake’s expression (e.g., “Take a little while to grow your brother’s hair, and now, take a little while to make your sister fair”, “from Hazy Jane II”).
At times, it’s almost impossible for the listener to derive Drake’s intent, but there’s no doubt at all that he is quite serious, although not necessarily dark. For all of the attention that is paid to Drake’s alleged suicide, and the foreboding implications that it casts on his lyrics, his intent seems to be misinterpreted in hindsight. “Poor Boy” combines equal parts self-pity and self-mockery (“Oh poor boy, so sorry for himself”), casting this self-indictment in a dry humor that is acutely aware of the sensitive nature of his self-analysis, while “Northern Sky” literally basks in an emotional beauty that could eclipse most wedding songs. Taken together, these songs portray a man trying to come to terms with his future, and like the phonetic sound of “Bryter Layter” implies, this is a hopeful album.
November 1970 - Billboard "Did Not Chart"