Sunday, 27 May 2012

Nico - The Marble Index

This will always be the best album made by anyone, ever.

The Marble Index is the second solo album by Nico, recorded in 1968 and released in 1969. The album featured long-term associate John Cale, who had worked briefly with Nico during her stint with The Velvet Underground. Cale had an extensive background in various avant-garde settings, working with minimalist composer LaMonte Young, among others. Nico wrote all her own songs on the record and plays the harmonium. The record has influenced a wide array of various artists, such as Coil, Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jocelyn Pook, Jackson Browne, Elliott Smith and Dead Can Dance. Trouser Press described the album as "Nico's disturbing poetry" set to "even more disturbing music; the result is one of the scariest records ever made. Unlike Chelsea Girl, in which Nico tried to adapt to an outmoded chanteuse tradition, The Marble Index blasts her off to her own universe." 

 Pre-Nico '50s modelling days as Christa Päffgen

Nico's sophomore effort was a dive into the void, a descent to a bottomless ocean, a hypnotic state which awakens the mind through life, reincarnation and beyond: "Lawns Of Dawns" introduces the hypnosis, the mesmerized mind reciting an incantation amidst a cacophonous maze of mirrors. "No One Is There" recalls 18th century romanticism, in what is basically a funereal chamber piece with the strings clashing with each other. "Ari's Song" is a feverish psalm, "Facing The Wind" an obsessive liturgy and a psychotic cabaret piece, while "Julius Caesar" travels even further down the past (the chorus of some ancient tragedy, the ecstasy of a dervish). Eventually, the last two songs reach a terrifying apex. "Frozen Warnings" sets the icy sunset, through which the Valkyries' catastrophic call of "Evening Of Light" heralds Armageddon.

‘My life follows me around’ (Nico)

For most of her old friends from the Warhol scene, CHELSEA GIRL was Nico’s only real solo record because it saw her successfully playing the role in which they’d always known her. The beautiful ‘50s model that La Päffgen had once been had easily adjusted to the superstar ideal. But on THE MARBLE INDEX, Nico became herself for the first time, declaring to her former manager (and manager of The Factory) Paul Morrissey: ‘I don’t want to be beautiful anymore.’ However, just as her obsession with dawn, doorways, borders and shorelines shows, Nico was the true female shaman of her time, a priestess of the doorway no less that mythic Ireland’s Bridgit herself: the troubled gatekeeper whose art straddled language barriers through sheer will power, straddled wide cultural barriers from the shallowness of fashion to the highest most redemptive art, a woman whose life wires were so un-insulated that she turned to heroin because it ‘made my good thoughts run slower and my bad thoughts go away.’ John Cale has commented about how her lack of regular timekeeping made her tambourine impossible to follow during Velvets shows and her lack of respect for musical rhythm so important to the artistic success of THE MARBLE INDEX. Once, during the album’s recording, when she’d showed up hours late on three consecutive days, Cale asked her what her problem with time was. She replied: ‘When I was working in The Actors’ Studio, Elia Kazan told me to do things in my own time. I took him at his word.’ In this corporate world with its increasingly Romanized scheduling, we can only be thankful for Nico’s singular attitude to time keeping. Throw away your time-pieces and embrace THE MARBLE INDEX.
Julian Cope

Songs such as No One Is There and Frozen Warnings are gorgeous in their bleakness and austerity. When, on Ari's Song, Nico promises her son "light and joy", the words sound strange in her mouth, as if she stands as much chance of experiencing those states as she does of walking on the moon. But I stumbled with Facing the Wind: discordant gusts of harmonium, nagging strings, intermittent percussion like someone banging on a coffin lid and vocals raddled with despair. I could see exactly what Lester Bangs was getting at. The Marble Index is a remarkable record, one with the annihilating beauty of a late Rothko painting, but I can't see a time when I'll feel compelled to play it again. I suspect that if you're ever in the perfect mood to play The Marble Index, then it's probably the last thing you should be playing.

The Marble Index is, more than anything, insolite, uncanny, in the Surrealists’ sense of the word, and, admittedly, an acquired taste, but for you, o my brothers and sisters, in quest of the arcane and incandescent, it is an essential album. In Richard Williams’s bemused liner notes you will find all the biographical information you need: her real name, her wandering narcotic life, her fate.


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