[Review] Nico: The Marble Index (1968)

Chelsea Girl’s gothic older sister is dreamy in a dark and different sense.

Kronomyth 2.0: Night mère.

The first fifty seconds of The Marble Index isn’t really the beginning of anything. Rather, it’s the end of everything you know: a kind of psychological air lock between reality and Nico’s unreal nightmare world. In the next moments, Nico presents the listener with the album’s challenge: Can you follow me? Can you follow my distresses? It’s a serious question, as Nico’s sonic nightmares are not for the faint of heart.

Each song on The Marble Index is a dark dream in miniature: children (or is it us?) hiding from a dancing demon (“No One Is There”), the body of Julius Caesar lying in a bucolic setting (“Julius Caesar”), the mist of history chasing us across the centuries (“Frozen Warnings”), the loneliness of seeking self in the world (“Facing The Wind”). This dreamworld, so alien to us, is disturbingly familiar to Nico. In “Ari’s Song,” the dream-mother/protector conveys her strength to her son with the words “Only dreams can send you where you want to be.”

Nico and her harmonium are the beacon in this dark world populated by John Cale’s furtive shapes and sounds. The use of seemingly extraneous bumps and thumps in the music (e.g., “Lawns of Dawns,” “Facing The World”) gives the impression of an active reality filtered through the subconscious, as if Nico’s body were being moved while dreaming. With a modicum of strings and sounds, Cale creates strange worlds that range from beautifully surreal (“Frozen Warnings”) to crushingly oppressive (“Evening of Light”). As a singer, as a songwriter, as an artist, The Marble Index is Nico’s grand achievement. It remains one of the most frightening monoliths made by man or woman, a poetic Stonehenge of mystery and power.

Original LP Version

A1. Prelude (0:50)
A2. Lawns of Dawns (3:12)
A3. No One Is There (3:36)
A4. Ari’s Song (3:20)
A5. Facing The Wind (4:52)
B1. Julius Caesar (Memento Hodie) (4:57)
B2. Frozen Warnings (4:00)
B3. Evening of Light (5:33)

Words & music by Nico. Arrangements by John Cale.

CD reissue bonus tracks
9. Roses In The Snow (4:06)
10. Nibelungen (2:44)

The Players

Nico (vocals, harmonium), John Cale. Produced by Frazier Mohawk; production supervised by Jac Holzman; engineered by John Haeny.

The Pictures

Photography by Guy Webster. Design by Robert L. Heimall. Art direction by William S. Harvey.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in November 1968 in the US (Elektra, EKS-74029) and the UK (Elektra, ELK 42065).

  1. Re-issued on blue vinyl elpee in the UK (Elektra, 42065 on butterfly label).
  2. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 1991 in the US (Elektra, 61098-2) with two bonus tracks.
  3. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2004 in the US (Sundazed, LP 5131).

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