There’s something about Nico’s austere approach on this record that is my catnip. I have no idea if I would like this record this much if the songs were the same and the arrangements were more contemporary, but I like the aesthetic so much I don’t care.
When a singer has such a distinct voice, as Nico does, and when the arrangements are so distinct, it’s really hard for me to truly evaluate the songs. I have a hard time imagining what these songs would sound like in other hands which is a way I often evaluate songs. But I do think Nico is generally a decent lyricist in English – certainly she’s better than most Germans I’ve heard writing in English. Are the melodies any good? They’re alright, I guess.
But the real star are the arrangements: Nico’s voice and harmonium most of the time and then the occasional other instrument, most of which are provided by co-producer John Cale. Sometime’s Cale’s instrumentation makes the whole thing even darker but, sometimes, such as with his faux baroque piano on “The Falconer”, it considerably livens the mood. I read a review online where a very famous music critic claimed lots of music in 1970 sounded like this but I really don’t know what he’s talking about. I can’t think of too many other records that sound like this.
And the advantage of that – the austere arrangements and the no frills production – is that the record absolutely does not sound like 1970 to me. It hasn’t really dated at all, as far as I can tell. You could make it now and the only thing that makes it sound like the past is that Nico is dead and nobody sings like she does.
I just really like it a lot. It’s not as weird as The Marble Index and not as distinct and I think not as significant, but it’s still a great example of a unique artist doing what she does best: super austere faux lieder. (I don’t actually mean “lieder” I just couldn’t come up with the name for Medieval ballads…)