Saturday, May 2, 2009
Nico, THE MARBLE INDEX
Elektra, 1968; reissued with two bonus tracks on CD, and with more bonus tracks as disc 1 of THE FROZEN BORDERLINE; available
Original LP: 8 tracks, 30:48; standalone CD reissue: 10 tracks, 37:48
Let me say it right now: I'm well aware I'm not the first person to review this album. Chances are if you're here, you've heard this and know whether you like it or not. If you have yet to hear this, be prepared. It's one of the most gorgeously depressing things I've ever heard. Most of the tracks are based on a minimalist framework of Nico's powerful vocals and spare harmonium arrangements, with ex-Velvet Undergound bandmate John Cale providing instrumentation as he sees fit. It's truly not related to rock of any sort; "No One Is There" is just Nico and Cale's viol work (not certain what sort of viol it is here), while "Lawns Of Dawns" finds her and the harmonium accompanied by distant crystalline sounds and atmospheric guitar noise. "Facing The Wind" has Nico's vocals electronically processed for a particularly disorienting effect. The last two tracks are the highlights for me. "Frozen Warnings" is an excellent piece of soothing drone-rock, Cale's multiple layers of viols building up to an excellent climax; "Evening Of Light", on the other hand, finds Nico's increasingly insistent vocals surrounded by a nightmarish mass of echoing strings and atonal guitar skronk, rumbling to a distinctly ominous end. Excellent, of course! The album was reissued on CD with two bonus tracks, neither of which is particularly essential; "Nibelungen", though, is an interesting example of how Nico sounded a capella. A much better way to hear this is THE FROZEN BORDERLINE; disc one is the remastered LP, plus alternate versions of several tracks (including "Nibelungen" with musical accompaniment, but excluding the a capella version) and some interesting outtakes. Disc two is Nico's DESERTSHORE remastered, plus demo versions of those songs. DESERTSHORE is almost as good as THE MARBLE INDEX, and the bonus material is mostly worthwhile, making THE FROZEN BORDERLINE the essential purchase.