Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Nico - The End

Nico
The End


Released 1974 on Island
Reviewed by Lawrence, 15/06/2010ce


This album by Nico hasn't been discussed here most likely because it's really difficult to review. And it's probably her most difficult and uncomfortable record, particularly for the last track which I'll eventually get to...

Of course Nico's solo work is much talked about but not really popular. Her voice, even when she was singing for the Velvet Underground, was always an acquired taste to begin with. It is low and often with a heavy Teutonic accent. And many of her recordings manage to sound age-old even when she does straight-ahead rock-'n-roll (or whatever her idea of it was...)

Of course most people remember her as a model and a chanteuse, whether with (again) VU or her previous Gordon Lightfoot (ironically, talking about weird voices!) penned single, or her later album Chelsea Girl. That was good material that furthered her as an icon. But it got especially weird when (as fate had it) she had encouragement from Jim Morrison to write her own material. Grim, enigmatic lyrics combined with an ingrained Teutonic-classical musical style meant that Nico was gonna be a rather hard sell for any record company from here on in.

So there is that trinity of odd Nico albums between '68 and '74, not counting of course the attempts at commercial rock/pop in the 80s that still managed to be as unconventional as the previous three. The Marble Index has already been talked about much here, an occasionally frightening bad-trip album but very much groundbreaking. Desertshore is probably the weaker of the three, but does try to expand to different genres while keeping the esoteric nature intact. Now it has been said that these records would be nothing without John Cale's input and arrangements, but I've heard Nico's BBC recordings with just her on harmonium and vocals and they're just as powerful and eerie without all the extra stuff.

So, onto the End. It starts with the foreboding "It Has Not Taken Long" with a syncopated rhythm that manages to increase the sense of dread the lyrics imply. Makes me think of the vast desert on the cover of Desertshore (funny enough!) Next the studio version of "Secret Side" has alot of really off-the-wall stuff going on with Cale's organ, all the while Eno's synth manages to compliment Nico's harmonium quite well.

"You Forget to Answer" is very beautiful and melancholy. Just about every instrument on this track, from Phil Manazera's cutting flamenco-guitar, to Eno's Joy Division-like atmospherics, and of course Cale making the chandeliers shake with his piano, makes this a perfect assessment of loss (the subject being, again, Jim Morrison.) And not to mention Nico herself being in high form vocal-wise. This has the feel of being in a creepy antiques store in a very large and old city during a thunderstorm.

After that, "Innocent and Vain" starts and ends with a pre-power electronics storm that makes for a rather prickly listening experience, with Nico singing about being a "savage violator that is innocent and vain" -- really weird juxtaposition there. And then "Valley of the Kings" just proves what I said all along -- Nico didn't really need all that extra dressing any more than Nick Drake needed it. Not to discount the great stuff Cale brings to this album, of course...

Side two starts as another posthumous tribute, this time about the Baader-Meinhof gang, and just to think this album couldn't be grimmer or odder with guitars being untuned, weird exotic percussion while Nico's instrument is actually phased here. Except funny enough there's an incongruously joyous bit of piano tacked on in the middle(!) And Nico tackling Jimbo's "The End" is something else. Though of course nothing can ever touch the original, and of course Nico's deadpan and drab delivery doesn't even come close, but in this case it's Cale's arrangements that makes this version shine. And especially listen to the rockin' bit at the song's conclusion. Pure class.

Well the easy part's over. The album ends with a version of the Nazi era German National Anthem. Seems like a very strange and shocking way to end an album. Nico herself would deny this track displayed any Nazi sympathies on her part, that she wanted to do something like Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner". It seems far from that listening to it, starting with a discordant mess of harmonium, organ and viola, this version is musically comparatively soothing in spite of the rather arrogantly chauvinistic lyrics. But it does beg the question. Does listening to this song make you a Nazi? Does listening to Nazi music make you a Nazi even if you deny it? And of course this leads to the big question mark regarding Death In June and likeminded bands that are fetishistically attracted to that sort of thing.

In spite of that uncomfortable last track, I still think this is one of Nico's best.


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