It’s criminal that in the current reappreciation of classic rock that Nico’s work outside of The Velvet Underground doesn’t get the same treatment. Her two records following the classic banana record, ‘Chelsea Girl’ (1967) and ‘The Marble Index (1968) are both masterpieces, but for very different reasons.
The easiest to recommend is ‘Chelsea Girl’ as it’s the most traditional. It’s a punchy 45 minutes of John Cale-assisted genius with significant contributions from Lou Reed & Jackson Browne. There's also Bob Dylan handing over “I’ll Keep It with Mine” as initially written for ‘Blonde On Blonde’. The record oozes star power but still manages to be such a cutting character portrait of the truly elusive Nico which was only hinted at previously.
The record transcends her performative melancholy and instead shows a deeper longing and sadness at play that goes far beyond the sad-girl aesthetic that she's mainly remebered for (see ‘Ultraviolence’ by Lana Del Rey). That American cynicism that Browne would go onto trademark on ‘The Pretender’ is here in spades but with such a moving presentation. Just hear ‘These Days’ to hear how simply it’s put but remains ever-so moving. The same can be said for ‘Winter Song’ or ‘Somewhere There’s A Feather’. Every song is so forward-thinking and complex but remains simple and familiar enough to place it with its classic rock contemporaries.
That cannot be said for its follow-up, ‘The Marble Index’, which is downright frightening. Another John Cale collaboration just without any warmth or anything resembling rock. It’s nightmare baroque. The melancholy fades into a confrontational, icy depression that assaults the listener with its silence only to be broken by Nico’s voice with shrill strings backing. The palpable anxiety makes the record a landmark in experimental music and has far more edge than any of the heavy metal that was coming to light at the same time.
In retrospect, these two records show the monumental genius of Nico and just how bold she could be. At one moment welcoming, calm and empathetic, and the next almost intent on murdering the listener with tension. There is no two-album contrast as bold as it is in the history of music. And they’re absolutely essential listening.
‘Chelsea Girl’ & ‘The Marble Index’ are available in the Store now