You’ll all be grateful that Nico‘s third and most ambitious album, Desertshore, clocks in at a mere twenty-nine minutes…but maybe for different reasons. For some, the lack of variety within its grooves and the fact that Nico’s voice is a challenging instrument mean those twenty-nine minutes cannot come soon enough. For others, the material is hauntingly dark and the short running time is all that a sane person can probably take. In fact, if it were any darker, the record would need to be shipped with a suicide-prevention number. Just in case.
Nico pairs up with Velvet Underground alum John Cale once again on what may be the most challenging post-Velvet offering ever made by a former member. You’d have to remove Metal Machine Music on sheer principle to get that distinction, but Cale does a stand-up job by removing everything out of the mix, save for his occasional piano jabs outlining the drone of Nico’s harmonium and her Germanic monotone.
It serves as one of the most rewarding ones too, particularly if you recount the artistic origins of the Velvet Underground. Around the same time of Desertshore‘s release, the band was shoring up their eclectic edges for Atlantic Records by delivering Loaded.
Nico, on the other hand, would meander around the avant-garde. She offered her record company barely thirty-minutes of what could best be described as a Medieval dirge, two songs of which are sung in their native German while one is sung in French by Nico’s own child.
If all of this sounds unappealing to you then you’d be best served looking elsewhere. But for those of you who hear a hint of despair in Nico’s acquired delivery and find it curiously appealing, then Desertshore is highly recommended. I’ll even go further and suggest that even for a rare few, this record could be a real life-changing event.
It is an understated masterpiece, a vital component to what would later become the Gothic Rock subculture.
Desertshore may me the most bleak album ever made, a record that transcends the genre it helped create and one whose arrangement will end up sounding more timeless than the countless dark brethren it spawned.
The record’s dark light is even more potent considering how tragic Nico’s life ended. Desertshore could be her most honest recording, and it provides an eerie foreshadowing of her future struggles and challenges. It’s her wake music, performed nearly two decades before she passed away.
History has not been kind on Nico’s role with the Velvet Underground, and it’s generally assumed that her physical talents far outweighed her musical ones. But Desertshore shows a much more complex performer than what she’s given credit for. Through its simplicity, it transcends the barriers that even the V.U. was trying to dismantle, and it does so with a stunning ambivalence.
Desertshore is Nico’s most accomplished release and it rivals even the most acknowledged Velvet Underground member’s output.
Video: Nico – “Janitor Of Lunacy” (Live) (Embedding disabled)
Video: Nico – “Abschied”
Video: Nico – “Afraid” (Live) (Embedding disabled)
Audio: Nico – “Mutterlein”