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coverpic flag Germany - Full Moon 199 - 11/28/12

Nico
The End
Island Records

This is the end, beaotifol friend!

There has been a rush of Velvet Underground and Velvet Underground related releases of familiar, previously unreleased and new material of late. Here's Nico's offering, the German chanteuse with the funeral voice. Not bad. The End, originally from 1974, is her best solo album to my knowledge and the new version includes a nine track bonus disc. Seven of the bonus tracks are previously unreleased, mostly taken from John Peel sessions and other recordings for the BBC. Nico (baptised Christa Päffgen) might be best remembered from the three Lou Reed songs where she sang lead on the legendary (if ever there was one!) first Velvet Underground & Nico album. Others might think of her small role as herself as part of the international jet-set in Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) or in Andy Warhol films from the mid 1960s, her celebrity lovers and aquaintances ranging from Alain Delon (who's always denied he was the father of her son Ari), via Brian Jones and Jimmy Page to Bob Dylan, a young Jackson Browne (still in his teens) and the Warhold and Velvet gang, or the disgruntled junkie of the 1970s and 80s. But one shouldn't forget Nico the solo artist. She might sound humourless, monotonous, over-serious and stiff, but if you reach beyond that you're in for lots of peculiar and spinechilling thrills and some black humour. When she performed in Norway for the first time around 1981 she replied a dissatisfied person in the audience thus: 'If you don't like me, why don't you shoot me!' He shut up.

The title The End is taken from the epic song of The Doors' debut album. It was her way to honour the late Jim Morrison, her soul brother as she called him and whom she had a short and fiery affair with. It was he who gave her the necessary faith to compose her own songs. The album was her fourth solo and the third produced by friend and colleague from Velvet days John Cale. It was also the third after she had bought her own instrument, the beloved Indian harmonium, and started to write her own gloomy songs. Cale also provided bass, viola, acoustic guitar, several kinds of keyboards and exotic percussive instruments, the latter mainly from the middle east. In addition he recruited Brian Eno (synthesizers) and Phil Manzanera (electric guitar). With a band consisting of 40 percent vintage Velvet and 33,3 percent vintage Roxy Music they simply couldn't fail. And they didn't.

The original album includes some of her best stark songs, hymn-alike most of them. All of them in minor keys, of course. The five songs of the first side of the original LP descend by thirds from E to A minor, whereas the three songs of side two are based around F minor, the CD booklet tells. "Secret Side" is about a 15 year young Nico allegedly being raped by an American soldier in the early 1950s in her native Germany. Manzanera's (backwards?) guitar gives it an elegant touch. It's one of her classics that stayed in her live repertoire until the very end. "You Forget To Answer" is based on the last time she saw Jim Morrison passing her in a taxi in a Paris street without noticing her, some hours before he died. It's the most mesmerizing Nico song of them all in my humble opinion. Nico's song and harmonium playing makes my neck hairs stand on end. The other musician's contributions - Cale's dramatic grand piano playing, Manzanera's Latin guitar and most of all Eno's stormy synth - have the effect of lifting me by those hairs up towards the ceiling, in a quite pleasant way. One of the very strongest recordings I've ever heard. Easily worth the price of the entire disc set alone. The other four Nico penned songs of the album are also very well worth investigating. "It Has Not Taken Long" dominated by the occasional dissonant harmonium and some bell sounding percussion is ominous, not least the parts with the children's song. Nico sings as if from the other side of the grave. "Innocent And Vain" and "We've Got The Gold" have some avant-garde touches, particularly the latter, over Nico's ordinary way of singing. It seems to suit her male companions very well. "Valley Of The Kings" sees Nico on her own with the swirling harmonium. Like most of the other songs here it attacks my neck hair.

The choice of cover songs is quite sensational. "Das Lied Der Deutschen" (Song For The Germans) is the national anthem of Germany. Her version includes the first two verses, used during the Nazi era that was forbidden after the Second World War. In that way she provoked the political left. When she dedicated it to Andreas Baader of the Rote Armee Fraktion (aka. the Baader Meinhof group that used violent means to promote their politcal ends), she provoked the political right as well. The melody was written by Austrian classical composer Joseph Haydn in 1797 and in the album version with Cale's organ (and maybe a bit of harmonium, too?) it sounds even closer to a hymn than the rest of the songs. "The End" is her lament for Jim Morrison. It's not quite as long as on The Doors' debut album, but still lasts nine and a half minutes. It's not as powerful as the original (especially if you know the song from the opening scene of F.F. Coppola's epic Vietnam War film Apocalyse Now), more sorrowful, but she in faithful to the entire lyrics. This is another number that stuck in her live repertoire. The album version doesn't include the harmonium, is sparsely accompanied by gloomy piano and other keyboards until the entire "band" kicks in two minutes from the end and Cale's percussion and piano playing change the song from partly drone- to rhythm-based.

The new version of The End includes a bonus disc with five songs taken from John Peel Sessions, a version of "Secret Side" recorded as early as February 1971 (previously released on an EP by Strange Fruit in the late 1980s along with the other three songs of that session) and four from another previously unreleased Peel Session in December 1974. In addition to takes of "We've Got The Gold", "You Forget To Answer" and "The End", the latter session also includes "Janitor Of Lunacy", off her previous solo album Desertshore (1970). This is another high ranked Nico favourite. Here's also vesions of "Secret Side" and "Valley of the Kings" taken from the Old Grey Whistle Test (BBC Television) in February 1975, also previously unreleased. The two remaining tracks is the cover versions from The End that stems from a gig at The Rainbow in Lonon on 1 June 1974, to celebrate the Island Records artists Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico. Only "The End" (the song) found its way to the LP from the event called simply June 1, 1974, whereas "Das Lied Der Deutschen" is another goodie that has remained in the vaults until now. All of these bonus tracks only include Nico on her own with her harmonium except from some help from Eno and his synth on the June 1 tracks.

The original The End album is overwhelming and dark. With the additional bonus disc it sounds even darker and harsher. Here's something for anyone remotely interested in the phenomenon Nico, belonging to another era by now (she died after a tragic bicycle accident in 1988 not long after she had got rid of her nasty heroin habit). For newcomers the album will serve as a great introduction to her music. For those of us who fell under her spell a long time ago, the new album version with the nine track bonus disc is a necessity.

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