Review Summary: The coldest of winters conceals the harshest beauty within its confines.
Before getting way ahead of myself, there's something that must be said. It’s probably something that anyone can understand, yet unfortunately for some it can be a hindrance – a person’s image really doesn’t matter. This needs no explanation, but for Nico, former model-turned-singer/songwriter, her beauty certainly played a role in several facets in her life. In a number of instances in her career, her path was forged in part due to her looks, very much to her chagrin. After her departure from The Velvet Underground and with a record contract with Verve left to be fulfilled, she went into the studio to record the elegant and lush Chelsea Girl
. The experience, to say the least, left Nico even more disillusioned with her image and the record business thanks in no part to outside interference. In her fear of being seen as just another pretty face merely going through an artistic phase, Nico departed for the burgeoning Elektra label, headed by Jac Holzman. Holzman was enamored by Nico’s ambition that went far beyond what her previous endeavors had entailed, and gave Nico ten grand to do whatever she desired. This opportunity bestowed upon her a sure path towards having total control over what she aimed to create. For once, Nico’s talent wasn’t been seen as an afterthought.
Upon discussions for who would produce this new project, Holzman assigned in-house producer Frazier Mohawk to produce, yet Nico had other plans involving ex-Velvet violist/organist John Cale; not only as the producer, but as the mastermind behind decrypting Nico’s bare bones harmonium compositions and making them far much more elaborate. The sessions that came to be from this union would form the eight songs that make up the ice cold dissonance of The Marble Index
. To understand the great lengths Nico went to shed her image as an “unobtainable object”, she willingly degraded herself by indulging in heroin, which in turn would greatly influence the tone of the album. Her ongoing habit, along with her short lived relationship with Doors frontman Jim Morrison, convinced her to write songs influenced by notes taken during drug-influenced dreams and visions. Furthermore resentful of her beauty, she dyed her hair red and wore black clothing to distance herself from the Nico that made waves in the fashion world – this certainly was not the Nico that had recorded the misfired Chelsea Girl
nor was it the one who had recorded with the Velvets in 1966. Instead, this was a woman who sought full-fledged artistic independence and freedom to make the ultimate in doom-and-gloom balladry. The Marble Index
as a sum of its parts is moreso difficult to describe due to the three constants: Nico’s harmonium droning in perfect unison with her equally warbling vocal and Cale’s intricate arrangements that paint a desolate picture as to what Nico’s personality, and by extension, Nico herself was like.
These three constants along with the stunning quality of the duo’s respective efforts are what make The Marble Index
what it is. It is harsh, frightening, and somewhat paranoid with an ounce of mystery to its rhetoric. Behind all the bells and whistles of Cale’s funereal production laid the fragile whisper of Nico’s harmonium, a mere figment of what formed the distinct sound of Nico’s melancholic masterpiece, a brief musical equivalent to the longest winter where darkness never ceased and isolation took root. That’s just how The Marble Index
feels all throughout, and it’s soul crushing to hear someone in such pain that it adds impact to their work in the process – and as history would have it, isolation would be Nico’s only companion in her short lifetime. The Marble Index
surely painted her as an ice queen, yet she was still seen as unobtainable. This time however, she had succeeded in gaining the respect of those who saw her as just a model and nothing more. In contrast to the disastrous finish to the Chelsea Girl
sessions which had devastated Nico with its unauthorized overproduction, The Marble Index
reduced Nico to tears, proclaiming of its suicidal beauty in her cathartic joy. One can question whether or not the restrained agony of The Marble Index
could ever qualify as “beautiful”, but by god, it is. There is more beauty and grace in this apocalyptic noise then there is in the prettiest ballads out there, and leave it to Nico to be the one to create such an awe-inspiring masterwork.