on 18 April 2007
having previously enjoyed nico's work with the velvet underground and her solo debut, chelsea girl, this reissue of two of her later albums (the marble index and desertshore) came as something of a surprise. it is considerably less accessible than either of the above; john cale's experimental arrangements combined with nico's gloomy vocals initially create quite an unsettling atmosphere. however, despite the unusal instrumentation (mostly harmonium and strings), this is far from being an unlistenable avant-garde experiment. beneath the dissonance lies true beauty, displaying nico's unique songwriting style. with each spin, the listener becomes aware of another beautiful snippet of melody, another haunting lyric or a subtle piece of instrumentation which previously went unnoticed. nico was taking vast amounts of heroin during the recording process; this is reflected in the dark and addictive nature of the music itself. it is relentlessly pessimistic, both musically and lyrically. the sound engineer is quoted in the liner notes that "the marble index isn't a record you listen to, it's a hole you fall into"; indeed, the music draws the listener in and consumes him entirely. this probably wouldn't be the record to put on at a dinner party; it is more suited for listening in solitude in a darkened room. it is a challenging record, no doubt. however, it is also one of the most original, beautiful and powerful collections i have heard in my life.
on 26 April 2007
To all intents and purposes, this is five star package....beautifully packaged and remastered, with excellent (if slightly overblown)sleevenotes. If you are a fan of Nico already, you will not need to hesitate in awarding a final star...but this is not a package for the uninitiated. Nor is it perhaps the logical next step for fans of Nico's 1967 debut album, 'Chelsea Girl'...that album had a very different sound, being in many ways, a conventional late sixties folk-pop production (it's actually much better than that, but the striking material doesn't always benefit from the very conventional arrangements). Going from 'Chelsea Girl' to 'The Marble Index' is a bit like jumping from a warm bath into a freezing cold one! Therefore...I'd advise the newcomer to saturate him/herself in some like-minded works of the time: Skip Spence's 'Oar', for instance, the early works of the Soft Machine, maybe the wilder shores of the post-Nico Velvets. THEN, try '..Index', followed by 'Shore'.
Nico's voice is unique and powerful...it may not be a 'good' singing voice, but she certainly knew how to put her material over....and this is pretty amazing material, that owes far more to the Romantic poets and Nico's German heritage than it does to late sixties pop/rock. John Cale's very original settings may take some getting used to, but the ears adjust after a few plays. And, contrary to what some may tell you, this music isn't depressing at all: once you've got past Nico's somewhat ghostly delivery, you'll find this stuff as life-enhancing and renewing as anything else that came out of this wonderous era of music.
German chanteuse Christa Päffgen would be almost 70 if she were alive today, a shocking statistic considering how staggeringly modern much of this music sounds. Those raised on the vocal whirlwinds conjured by Polly Harvey or Bjork will find much to sustain them here, although the nature of Nico's allure is far more glacial and severe.
Her voice has the clarity and resonance of a great cathedral bell tolling underwater, but if Nico is effective when accompanied by only her own swaying harmonium, she is shattering when framed by John Cale's groundbreaking orchestrations. The Velvet Underground member had studied with Aaron Copland and his string arrangements on tracks like Evening of Light are way ahead of his time, prefiguring the primal chaos of contemporary composers like John Adams or James MacMillan but at the same time maintaining an almost medieval hymnlike severity as on the almost accapella My Only Child or the unearthly, tumbling Abschied.
This 2-CD set comprises extended versions of 1969's The Marble Index and 1970's Desertshore, both of which deserve to discover an audience they failed to find in their own time. Both CDs contain a wealth of unreleased tracks - both alternative takes of familiar songs and extra material, like the beautiful Réve Reveiller.
Nico's stage name is an anagram of icon, and that still makes perfect sense.
on 24 October 2012
The Frozen Borderline is a combination of two of Nico's three masterpieces, The Marble Index and Desertshore and the only crime of this album is that The End is not also included. However, The End is about to get a decent remastering itself, so it's all good. If you want a good idea of Nico's sound, this is the best record to get as it contains her most avante garde (Marble Index) and her most acessible (Desertshore)albums, plus extras. For The Marble Index we get four tracks origionally left off of the release, which was certainly a crime. Roses in The Snow and Nibulungen are prime examples of this.
The other extras are all demos of Nico's songs, featuring her trademark harmonium and brings new light to most songs, particularly the softer ballads like Afraid and My Only Child. And since this whole collection is roundabout the same price as just one of these albums alone, it is definately worth it even if you end up despising the music.
I would also ignore all the comments about Nico simply droning along in a flat monotone. Those people clearly listened only to the first track on Marble Index (Lawns of Dawns) couldn't bare anymore and judged that that was all Nico could do. Had they continued listening, they would have heard Nico's soaring vocals on No One Is There and the tender emotion of My Only Child. There is also the stunning vocal performance and Janitor of Lunacy, where Nico conjours up the arcane world with her voice combined with that harmonium and Cale's instrumentations. Afraid also proves that Nico is capable of some beautiful lyrics and can express them with touching emotion.
The Music itself is quite minimalistic, especially on Desertshore which is what makes it more accessible. The Marble Index is still sparse, but filled with dark, harrowing instrumentation courtesy of strings, hammering piano and chiming guitars. The most musically effective track is Evening Of Light, which has chills down my spine from start to finish and the track that gives this compilation its name, Frozen Warnings, is one of Nico's best.
Overall this is just a beautiful collection of two beautiful albums that is easy to listen to so long as you have an adventurous mind when it comes to music. If your the sort of person who likes to hear music in the background or to set the scene, this isn't for you. If you are the sort that likes to immerse yourself in the music then this is for you, because Nico's work demands attention. In return it transports the listener into a realm of sublime dreams, espcecially if you listen to it on a winter evening in the dark, eyes closed. It is an amazing journey and I would reccomended to anyone interested in real art when it comes to music.
I was fortunate enough to see Nico solo at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm back in the seventies, as I recall it just her and her trusty harmonium. It was hypnotic, riveting, unsettling.
All these words can apply to the astounding music on this wonderfully and lovingly compiled two-disc collection of her early albums The Marble Index (1968) and Desertshore (`70) plus alternate takes, demos and, in the case of the former, four precious unheard tracks that didn`t make it onto the original LP.
It would be tempting to say that Nico sounds like a hedonistic, humourless German chanteuse whose strange, melancholy songs are relentless and austere. There`s a tang of truth in that, but, hearing these plaintive songs again after far too long, I can`t help hearing other things going on. First of all, a discreet delicacy, a childlike quality. Forget the Velvets, the myths and tales of heroin-fuelled tantrums, and listen to a vulnerable girl calling out to us in a still young woman`s body (Nico was only about thirty when she made these two career-defining records, both produced with rare tact and refinement by Frazier Mohawk and John Cale, who plays all other instruments behind Nico`s touchingly stark harmonium.)
What this music isn`t, to my mind at least, is `weird`. No doubt it seemed so to some forty or more years ago, but we`ve had Bjork, Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, and other contrary mavericks since then (not to mention a lot of spiky contemporary jazz workouts).
Along with an bone-white arctic chill, there`s an almost playful, if tentative, warmth here too, with Nico`s then-small son Ari even singing one very brief and delightful song, Le Petit Chevalier. And on the simply titled Ari`s song, she breaks your heart singing about "my little man".
The Marble Index is musically perhaps the denser of the two albums, though on repeated listenings the music seems to `separate out` with plenty of space for Nico and the essentially sparse instrumentation to breathe.
The four outtakes from TMI are almost worth the price alone, including two songs sung in German - the emotional Nibelungen a standout - and the equally compelling Roses In The Snow.
The accompanying booklet is a model of its kind, the notes telling you much about both Nico and the sometimes tense sessions for these tracks.
Nico, who had lived quite a life, died while on holiday in Ibiza, after a cycling accident. She had been a long-time heroin addict, and apparently was attempting to get her life back together at the time of her death in 1988, at the age of 49. (Sources are conflicting concerning her age, but most agree she was born in Cologne in 1938. I take the discrepancy in the booklet here to be a misprint or oversight rather than an error.)
As I say, I hear as much a child or a young girl keening in a snowy wasteland as I do a woman of the world when I listen to these chastening, oddly purifying songs. There`s much here that is coldly beautiful - wanting warmth, barely admitting the need for comfort or anything more than weakly glimmering embers.
Evenings of light, lawns of dawns, frozen warnings, roses in the snow, farewells on desertshores... music like no other.
on 31 August 2011
Until "The Marble Index", Nico has recorded 16 amazing songs: 2 from her first single at Immediate Records, 1 from the movie "Strip-Tease", far better than the Juliette Gréco's version included in the movie, 3 with the Velvet Underground and 10 from her debut album, "Chelsea Girl", all of them written by other people. Now, for the first time with "The Marble Index", Nico has made a record with her own songs, and the result was simply fantastic, she has created a unique world. Sometimes I wonder how in the earth the producer could have not included in the original vinyl record songs as beautiful as "Sagen Die Gelehrten", "Rêve Réveiller" (Nico sings delightfully in French), "Roses in the Snow" and "Nibelungen". When you're hearing "Evening Of Light", you see from where comes the influence in such bands as Siouxsie and the Banshees. The alternate versions are amazing too, and it proves my theory that the most important in Nico's work are her voice and her lyrics, always powerful, whatever musical arrangement the song could had. "Desertshore" retains the same quality, sublime music, and I dare say that, for the first time ever, with these two CDs pop music could be such a divine art. For those of you that can't fully understand the meaning of "Janitor of Lunacy", think in the more significant German equivalent of the word janitor, Hausmeister. It took me 43 years to know Nico's music, thanks to the misogynist rock and roll press, but I can say for sure it's the best music I've ever heard in my whole life.
on 16 December 2010
Nico had fame thrust upon her in a way that most of the wannabes of today would probably saw a limb off to replicate. This was thanks in part to Andy Warhol, the John the Baptist of the image over substance scene. But then she went and made the two albums brought together in this set just to prove how she had something that mere fame could never contain. Precisely what that was remains elusive to this day, but it's that quality of elusiveness that makes these two albums thoroughly -compellingly- enigmatic.
`The Marble Index' is the first of them. It's hardly contentious to say that there's nothing else quite like it anywhere. The sub-aquatic guitars and tinkling keyboards which open "Lawns of Dawns" are enough in themselves to contrive an atmosphere of complete unworldliness, but when the woman herself comes in on voice and harmonium the listener has no choice but to suspend every expectation, especially as a nasty little sound not unlike that of Mr McHenry's car in the original Magic Roundabout figures in the disconcerting music that follows.
By dint of title alone "Frozen Warnings" could provoke words on the glacial tones of the woman's voice, but there's something which language just can't capture here and it's her artistic temperament, here stated so clearly and indeed starkly that this can be considered as her first album and the comparatively ditzy "Chelsea Girl" which preceded it regarded as the work of a woman doing someone else's bidding.
If it wasn't for the fact that there clearly was no formula for `The Marble Index' `Desertshore' could have repeated it, especially as the music was played by the woman and John Cale, just as it was on the earlier release. But the songs -and to describe the pieces as such is to saddle them with a hopelessly inadequate description- are to put it glibly a little lighter. `My Only Child' for example features harmony vocals which aren't so much a musical necessity as they are a sop to anyone trying to get a handle on such uncompromising music.
So let's face it, Alexandra Burke -to name just one of those `performers' for whom the middle of the road is oddly the least dangerous place in the world- could never conceive of this kind of thing, let alone be granted the leeway to record it, which kind of sums up the difference between then and now.
on 19 January 2010
This is a hansomely packaged re-issue, with added demos, outtakes and alterate versions, of Nico's second and third solo albums. The gentle orchestrations and arrangements of songs written by others that characterise her debut, 'Chelsea Girl', are replaced by Nico's own harmonium playing on self-written songs with appropriate instrumental accompaniment from her fellow refugee from The Velvet Underground, John Cale. The result is a wintery sound in tune with the lyrical subject matter and frequently icily beautiful melody lines. These albums more closely follow Nico's eccentric and uncomfortable vision than the too-sweet treatments on 'Chelsea Girl' and show Cale to be a sensitive and sympathetic collaborator. Neither LP sold well on initial release; but 40 years on, these songs and their settings appear ageless. Rhino should be lauded for making these albums available again with sleeve notes adding light to the curcumstances surrounding their creation. This music is a fitting soundtrack to the harshest winter in 30 years.
on 19 April 2010
over the winter i had this in the car and listened to it day in day out. there's nothing better to listen to driving across the snowy wastes of niddrie. stuck in traffic with a view over the Jack Kane park i began to expect a sleigh carrying white-haired intellectuals to shoot out from the trees, you can open the windows on a sunny icy day and enjoy real winter beauty and raise the tone of the neighbourhood at the same time.
i had a mum and a young baby in the car a few times, when mum made me turn the music off the baby kept crying, i would be interested to know if others have observed the same effect.
if you're a scottish outreach worker and cold and poor i recommend you look out for a cheap copy and keep it as something to look forward to when it gets (really) cold again.
The Frozen Borderline title for this expanded edition of Nico,s seminal albums "The Marble Index" and "Desertshore" comes via a track on "The Mable Index"-"Frozen Warnings". Some would say that both these albums , "The Marble Index" particularly require a warning to the listener of some kind. This is music so removed from the levels of normal human experience and emotions it is almost alien .Nico as the women who fell to earth.
The music on The Marble Index is dominated by an instrument -the harmonium- a pedal powered reed instrument whose atonal drones characterise the albums sepulchral magnificence. Nico had mastered the instrument by 1968 and produced a dozen original compositions , easily enough to cut an album. Most labels would have baulked at the prospect of making an album out of such uncompromising material but the head of "Elektra" Jac Holzman thought the songs had immense artistic potential so decided to go ahead and make an album. Nico wanted John Cale , then undergoing his acrimonious departure from The Velvet Underground , to produce but Holzman wasn't happy with a first time producer so Cale was drafted as musician and arranger , playing electric viola, piano , bass, guitar , mouth organ, glockenspiel bells and bosuns pipe. Instead experienced LA soundman Frazier Mohawk was enlisted for the producing role for the miniscule budget and short time allotted to them.
A dozen tracks were recorded but only eight made the album , mainly because Mohawk felt 30 minutes of this music was enough.-It made me want to slit my wrists" he said. The four tracks discarded from that session are included on this disc and it's up to each individual listener to decide whether their inclusion is too much of a good thing . The songs on The Marble Index are like hymns from a mausoleum, the experience akin to wandering through the shattered remnants of a mind or as Mohawk put it :"The Marble Index isn't a record you listen to , it's a hole you fall into".
With crushing inevitability The Marble Index didn't sell very well and Nico was dropped by Elektra , though it's cited that she would never record for the same label twice anyway , an appraisal of her fickle nature and temperament as much as anything. So it was that Joe Boyd persuaded Mo Ostin of Reprise to fund her next album "Desertshore" 1970. John Cale again endowed the album with arrangements and instrumentation and co-produced along with Boyd. There is a little more variety on Desertshore than on The Marble Index with "My Only Child" almost entirely acappela while "Le Petite Chevalier" features Nico,s young son Ari singing in French and clocks at barely over a minute long -a relief for haters of all things twee. "Afraid" is led by some lovely piano and overall Desertshore is less chilly and implacable than it,s predecessor and lets some sense of human frailty and emotion in with songs speaking of family and parenthood.
Nico sings like one of the unfortunates in the song "My Only Child" -"Their faces cold , their bodies close to freezing", her tones affecting a neutrality that belies the actual poignancy of the lyrics. Both these albums are outstanding examples of how music can push boundaries and attain a position as a work of art and are exact singular visions Implacable edifices from a true one off. This double disc set with accompanying booklet is great value but its not for the fainthearted or those who dismiss "difficult" music on the first listen . Nico,s music surely is " a hole to fall into" and more importantly it's a hell of a long way down .