Creem MAY 1975 - by Colman Andrews


Nico's last album, Desertshore - her strongest, most varied, most emotionally effective work was released over four years ago. In the meantime, some of us have been reduced to abject penury or success; some of us have grown fertile, febrile, or fat; some of us have succumbed to The Grim Reaper, The Last Hurrah, or The Most Beautiful Girl (Boy) In The World. And some of us have just moped around chewing our fingernails and muttering When's another Nico album going to come out?

It's here, and while it's sure not going to encourage us to let our fingernails grow, it's something very strong indeed.

Nico, needless to say, is a pretty damned unique stylist, an individualistic talent who probably couldn't compromise her musical principles if she wanted to. If you like her, you love her; if you don't like her, she's worse than scurvy. Amin of Uganda, and the Mac Davis Show put together.

Her own songs are quite extraordinary. They're vignettes (in the original sense of that word - strong images which fade off mysteriously all around, quite remarkable in their precision, their economy of line (both verbal and musical), their complexity. If her songs are pretentious, then they are reminders of the occasional artistic validity of pretension. To the Nico-lover, they are, in conception and in realization, extraordinarily religious songs - and it's not just the sacerdotal, organ-like swirling of the harmonium she plays. At their best, Nico song's hint at the sensitive, spiritual authority found in the works of Messiaen, or even in Schoenburg's organ variations. Her muse is Nordic meditative and French avant-garde, and she fuses these idioms into a flat, strong, haunting kind of quasi-recitative that is without parallel in serious music today.

There are six Nico originals on The End; there is also her second recorded version of The Doors' The End, and August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben's Das Lied Der Deutschen, best known for its first line Deutschland, Deutschland, uber Alles. As usual, John Cale produced and is musically ubiquitous (one almost adds omnivorous). Eno and Phil Manzanera are also present, as are back-up vocalists Vicki and Annagh Wood.

Cale has done a top-notch Cale job of fashioning musical textures here. The strummed glockenspiel against harmonium and heartbeat synthesizer-bass on It Has Not Taken Long, the stinging, ringing, crystalline choruses on Secret Side, even the vaguely clichéd screeching clatter and biting chirrups on Innocent And Vain - all seem to match, enhance and strengthen Nico's unforgettable voice - the forced syllables, the low and plaintive vowels from deep in the chest, the rounded flatness, the lank vibrato.

The End is particularly impressive: it's more restrained, less obvious, than was the version she recorded with Eno on the June 1, 1974 LP. She somehow manages to add a new believability, new dignity (of all ridiculous things) to what is basically just another clutter of UCLA acid-head mythico-Corso pseudo-poetry. Nico shows true dramatic ability, dramatic intuition here. Her voice modulates, she alters the effectiveness of words by a misplaced breath, a hesitant sibilance. (When she sings the line so limitless and free, she gives it almost a jazz reading). She builds genuine suspense in the song, and never screams or shouts her way into excess.

A friend of mine says that Nico sings and plays music to jump off a cliff by. Maybe so, but what a way to go.