Friday, March 29, 2013

Record Store Day 2013: Nick Drake

Perhaps no release better encapsules my ambivalent feelings about Record Store Day than reissue of Nick Drakes' U.S. debut album for Record Store Day 2013. Originally released in 1971 when Island first started distributing records in the U.S. through Capitol Records, Nick Drake drew three songs from Five Leaves Left and five from Bryter Layter, which would not be released in the U.S. in their entirety until 1975.

Let me state the obvious: Nick Drake (the album) was always a poor substitute for the first two albums, and any fan of Drake's music needs all three of his studio albums in their collection. Nick Drake was a flawed addition to his catalog in 1971, but it at least introduced the man's music to the U.S. (although it's questionable how many of these actually made their way into record stores in 1971, as almost all copies seem to have cut-out or promo marks on them).

So why do I find myself wanting to purchase this album in 2013 when I already own every song on it and more? Well, for starters, there's the undeniably great artwork featuring Keith Morris' legendary photographs on the exterior and and a gorgeous photo of Nick in a field on the inner gatefold. This is a nice looking product, and it appears Universal has taken great care with the both the packaging and the sound quality (the music was remastered from the original analog tapes by original engineer John Wood at Abbey Road Studios). Further, as interest in Nick Drake's music has grown over the years this discographic curiosity has become something of a collector's item in its own right. You could probably expect to pay between $80 to $120 for an original copy in nice condition.

Do I need this album? No, absolutely not. Do I want it? I hate to admit it but, yeah, kinda I do. It's an ambivalent kind of desire, I'm cognizant on the one hand of how I'm being manipulated by economies of manufactured scarcity on the one hand, on the other hand...well, I just want it damn it!


Chris Zingg said...

Regardless of the commercial motivation to reissue this, the s/t LP is how I was introduced to Nick back in '71. The music is gorgeous and the artwork is, too, as you've noted.

Pete Bilderback said...

Probably the artwork alone is reason enough to purchase this. I don't really mind the commercial motivation behind the release...I'd say this actually ranks pretty low on the exploitation meter compared to a lot of what is out there. What bugs me is that I WANT it so other words my beef is not with UMG, the estate of Nick Drake, RSD or the music industry, but with myself.

From 1971 to 1975 this album served a very real musical purpose of introducing Nick's music to the American market. In 2013 it's a bit more complicated.

wardo said...

I'm just happy to know I follow the same blog as Chris Zingg, who might remember me from my Audio One days.

Dave McGurgan said...

The packaging is very well done. The sound of the vinyl is excellent. It's worth it, even if you have all of the records already. Which I know you do.

Pete Bilderback said...

I passed on this on RSD, as the shop only got one copy, and I knew someone else who wanted it more than me. But I ended up picking it up, as the store got in a few more copies post RSD. The LP sounds great.

It comes with a code for three downloads. MP3, 96/24 FLAC (hi-rez digital) and MP3 sourced from original vinyl. The tracks from Byrter Layter on the MP3 and FLAC versions were mastered at a far lower volume than the tracks that came from Five Leaves Left. It's not that the FLL tracks are too loud, the BL tracks are way too low in volume (with peak amplitudes around -11 dB). The "sourced from disc" MP3 version is something of a joke as it was obviously recorded from very noisy vinyl, most likely on substandard equipment. So the downloads are kind of a fail, although if you have audio editing software you can normalize the FLAC version.

I have mixed feelings about the packaging. It's obvious Cally (Martin Calliman who is credited with the art direction) made a conscious aesthetic decision to go with an aged "authentic" look for the cover right down to the reproducing an image of the cut-out hole. The packaging is high quality with a very nice paste on gatefold sleeve, original shop poster, etc. Personally, I'd have preferred they cleaned it up a bit. And if they were going to go with the "authentic" look, why not actually have a hole drilled in the cover?

But the sound quality of the LP itself is excellent, and despite my reservations, I can recommend this to any Nick Drake fan.