Nico

I like Nico‘s music more than the Velvet Underground‘s, but that’s not saying much. I hate the Velvet Underground‘s music. She’s an artist I find more interesting in theory than practice. I like the idea of there having been a Nico, but her actual records are only tolerable in small doses, and only when I’m in a very particular mood, which has as much to do with the weather outside as my own mental and emotional landscape. I liked the movie Nico, 1988, a portrayal of an angry, aging junkie surrounded by nostalgists and posers who want to hang around her so they can convince themselves that they’re dark, alienated weirdos. But it didn’t make me want to go back and revisit her albums.

For whatever reason — the feeling of living in a locked-down world, perhaps — the release of a four-song Nico BBC session from 1971 has captured my interest, though. Recorded on February 2 and broadcast later that month, it was available on vinyl and CD in 1988, but then fell out of print. Now it’s back, as part of a series called BBC Hidden Gems on the Gearbox label.

The four tracks performed come from her albums The Marble Index, Desertshore, and The End. There’s no backing band; she accompanies herself on harmonium as she sings. The instrument swells and wavers, the simple, incantatory melodies coming in and out, up and down, like the tide. Her voice is strong and controlled; when it trembles, as on “No One is There,” it’s a choice, and she has a wider range (musical, and emotional) than she’s often credited with.

Nico‘s music isn’t for everyone, but she did what she wanted, at least on her early ’70s albums, and she achieved something compelling. Her 1980s work is…less interesting. And it’s difficult to imagine a lot of artists who came after her, from Jarboe to Myrkur, without her inspiration. So if you’re a fan, this short EP — four tracks in under 20 minutes — is worth your time and money. If you’re new to her work, the albums mentioned above are a better place to start.

Phil Freeman

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