For someone who hardly spoke, seldom had his picture taken and only performed a couple dozen concerts in his lifetime, it’s surprising that the mysterious Nick Drake had the wherewithal to release three near-perfect albums before he died in 1974 at age 26. Plagued by depression and a general discontent for the lack of record sales in his short-lived career, serious interest in his music started to take shape only after his death. The posthumously released albums, Time of No Reply and Fruit Tree, included in a 1986 box set, were instrumental in welcoming a whole new breed of Drakians to his solemn splendor. The 1994 Way to Blue compilation elevated his cultish status to new heights. But a rarities album like Made to Love Magic is what true fans have been waiting for with bated breath.
It’s a perfect collage of demos, outtakes and remixes culled from Time of No Reply and his 1969 debut, Five Leaves Left, displaying an introspective look at an artist documenting his work in isolation. As remote and wistful as Drake’s songs often sound, there’s a new found beauty with “Magic” (previously titled “Made to Love Magic”) and “Time of No Reply,” with the addition of an elegantly implemented orchestra. It would seem that because the emotional extremes are few and far between in most of Drake’s catalogue — save for 1970’s Bryter Layter — it would make for a difficult listen, but on the contrary: The orchestral shades are brighter and more hypnotic, bringing a glimmer of optimism to his often disconnected themes and images.
Those striving for those stark drones and dark moments shouldn’t be concerned; this collection is packed with Drake in lonely, Pink Moon-era. The demo version of “River Man” captures the alone-in-a-bedroom-feeling well, whereas “Mayfair” and “Hanging On a Star” reveal the significant influence he has had on artists today, including Belle and Sebastian and Mojave 3. The only previously unreleased track on this disc is a two-minute forlorn number called “Tow the Line.” It’s a bit rough around the edges, with Drake singing seemingly off-key. But because his voice his backed by the fluidity of his guitar playing, I hardly notice — or care.