I’ve always wondered what it would have sounded like if Nick Drake had decided to plug in an electric guitar and rock; unfortunately we don’t find out on Bryter Layter, or anywhere else in his catalogue. Like Five Leaves Left, Drake is again joined by Fairport Convention musicians and by strings, while John Cale is an important new contributor, adding beauty to gorgeous ballads ‘Fly’ and ‘Northern Sky’.
‘Northern Sky’ is a serious contender for the most beautiful song in the entire genre of popular music; Cale contributes lovely accompaniment on celeste, piano and organ, adding a lovely middle section that links the song’s two halves, while Drake breathes the elegantly enigmatic lyrics; “Been a long time that I’m waiting/Been a long time that I’m blown/I’ve been a long time that I’ve wandered/Through the people that I’ve known.” ‘Fly’ is almost as superb, bringing out the yearning in Drake’s voice. ‘At The Chime Of A City Clock’ and ‘One Of These Things First’ bring a jazzier touch, while the two separate parts of ‘Hazey Jane’ are alternately bright and soothing.
If there’s a quibble, the jazzy ‘Poor Boy’ drags a little at six and a half minutes, but Bryter Layter is still an album of almost unrivaled beauty.