on 16 October 2013
I have tried to be clear by contributing separate reviews for the 2 distinct releases but Amazon have grouped them as a product so that any review appears on all editions. There are numerous editions and the only major distinctions are that: the 'Femme Fatale: The Aura Anthology' offers great value for money because it also includes demos, outtakes, and the previously released 'Chelsea Live' album; the Buda Edition is dubbed from vinyl and has lesser quality sound reproduction compared to the original vinyl and CD releases; each different edition features either minor or substantial differences in artwork and information. However, my point (see below) is that there are 2 strikingly different releases of 'Drama of Exile'. One story has it that the partially completed tapes were stolen and sold to Aura who promptly released the album much to Nico's dismay who then re-recorded the album. Another story is that Nico was under contractual obligation to Aura but dissatisfied with either them or the release or both so she simply made the album again and released that 2nd recording with Invisible Records. I prefer the second story but hey.
Over the years, the two separate releases have become muddled in numerous editions and re-releases. The first release is easy to identify because it is owned by Aura. The second release is most easily identified in the Czechoslovakian edition released by Rakos Records as RR01 wherein the album is called 'The Drama of Exile' and has a black and white cover. That release is essentially the same as the Czechoslovakian edition released by TomK, although the TomK release is earlier and has a different black and white cover. Differences in editions aside, despite Aura and other music business representatives claiming that there is little to differentiate the 2 releases, there are striking differences between the first realease and the second release. At the most superficial level, the artwork and information are strikingly different. The tracks are in a different sequence and have distinct durations. 'Purple Lips' appears only on the 1st release and not at all on the second release. However, much more substantially, the first release is hard edged and has a cold electronic feel that was new for Nico's subdued or even sunken dismay; it is characteristically claustrophobic but with stark penetrative electronics, and is built around the 2 cover versions: 'Heroes' and 'Waiting for My Man' - both of which are remarkably inferior to the innovation and competence of Nico's original compositions. Personally, I rate the first release: 5 out of 5 stars. The second release is punctuated by the 2 cover versions which are sleek, punchy, energetic, and confluent with the album as a whole. The album as a whole is completely full-on, absolutely kicking, and so very smooth and slick with punchy brass and flowing rhythm throughout wherein the electronics interweave and accentuate or layer a bed upon which brass squeals and ornamentates. The vocals are the most confident and full-bodied I have ever heard from Nico (and I own everything that has ever been released of Nico). In the context of Nico's subject matters, the second release is exhilarating, deeply energising, and very uplifting with vitality foregrounded and intellectualisation embedded within the lyrical content rather than shadowed through the performance, production, and the overall feel of the album. I would give this second release at least 7 out of 5 stars. Bearing in mind that the maximum out of 5 stars is 5 stars, the ultimate treasure is in playing both releases together because it is such a unique treat to be able to listen not to remixes, remodels, remasters, or reinterpretations rather literally to two completely different albums that have only two things in common: the title of the album and the songs that are on it! There the similarities end. Together, I would give both albums at least 15 out of 10 stars! Nico released 2 albums entitled: '[The] Drama of Exile' and both those albums are utterly superb in their own right, they are completely different albums.
Despite stating 'Version Originale', this is not the 1981 Aura recording nor the same as the version released as a double CD entitled 'Femme Fatale: The Aura Anthology' rather this is the 1983 re-recording that Nico made after a dispute with Aura. I cannot best recommend this specific edition as it is somewhat muddled with the 1981 release and according to officials is dubbed from vinyl (in my experience: Amazon listings sometimes do not marry with actual releases and my comments about the muddled release pertain to the Buda issue; whereas the Czechoslovakian issue is the proper not muddled edition of the 1983 re-recording; the Aura releases are the first 1981 recordings).
Whilst the album contains more upbeat, rockier, and post-punk tracks, it is, like all of Nico's work - sublimely unique and of exceptional integrity, utterly uncompromising - but here also much more accessible to probably wider audience than, for example, 'Marble Index' which -if loved- sounds as though Nico may not amass the will to make it to the end of the song, becomes increasingly port-mortem, then the next song starts ...and so on... sincerely Nico is one of my favourite music artists ever; her originality and sincerity breathe vitality into the listener. To my being, as much as i adore the Doors, very much of David Bowie, and the Velvet Underground, et al - only VU at their absolute peak ('White Light White Heat' era) come anywhere close to the exquisite and sublime musicality of Nico. Her cover versions often surpass the originals in terms of depth and engagement but are shallow entities in comparison to her original compositions. Her poetry is deeper and more vital than the best of Jim Morrison's; her song writing is more potent and significant than the best of David Bowie's; John Cale's most unwavering excellence is mountainously most evident in his arrangements for Nico's first albums (not this one which he does not appear on). As her least challenging album 'Drama of Exile' (both versions: the 1981 and the 1983 recording) is less engaging for me than most of her work but is stunning, riveting, awesome, shocking, distressing, joyous, and a hint at Nico maybe feeling like she could make music - which makes me wonder how much more potential remained after 'Camera Obscura' - mountainously much more is my best guess.