Innocent & Vain — an Introduction to Nico

  1. I'll Keep It with Mine (3:17)
  2. All Tomorrow's Parties (5:58) *
  3. You Forget to Answer (5:05)
  4. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (5:07)
  5. Valley of the Kings (3:51)
  6. Femme Fatale (2:37)
  7. Eulogy to Lenny Bruce (3:45)
  8. Secret Side (4:02)
  9. Little Sister (4:22)
  10. It Was a Pleasure Then (8:02)
  11. Innocent and Vain (3:43)
  12. The End (8:51) †

    * alternate single voice version

    † June 1, 1974

Nico 1965-07-22
Nico 1965-07-22

Innocent & Vain - an Introduction to Nico UK CD Universal/Polydor 589 421-2n
UK CD Universal/Polydor
589 421-2
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Innocent & Vain — an Introduction to Nico

It may seem an absurd premise.

Nico, as in The Velvet Underground And Nico, quite probably the most influential rock album ever made (remember the old adage that although it only sold a few hundred copies at the time, everybody who bought it then went on to form a group of their own). Nico, as in the Warhol Superstar whose iconic ice maiden features remain frozen between the 16mm sprocket holes of Andy's no-budget celluloid art ("if there exists beauty so universal as to be unquestionable," said Gerard Malanga, "Nico possesses it"). Nico, as in the Parisienne model who waltzed into Fellini's La Dolce Vita before waltzing through the arms of Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Jim Morrison and Alain Delon. Nico, as in Nico who needs no surname. Nico, as in Nico who needs no introduction. So you'd think.

"I'm a total stranger to myself," she admitted when interviewd in 1980, "except sometimes when I get reminded". A stranger to herself and to the rest of us. Of the thousands (millions ?) who have been exposed to the indisputable influence of that first Velvets' album through the ages, only a fraction will have pursued the thread of Nico's subsequent adventures beyond the banana skin. Possibly because her solo career involved just half a dozen seldom heard studio albums, all on separate labels, spread over two decades spent struggling to avoid total obscurity. Possibly because the tragedy of her personal life is no secret; from the Aryan goddess of Warhol's New York to the haggard heroin addict slumming it in Eighties Manchester. But most likely because Nico's music is aa forbidden forest, a no-go zone for those of weak spirit and frail soul. Like Lester Bangs once commented, "I don't know if I would classify it as oppressive or depressing, but I do know that [Nico's music] scares the shit out of me.

This anthology picks up the plot directly after the Spring 1967 release of that legendary 'banana album' ("Femme Fatale" and the rarer alternate solo vocal mix of "All Tomorrow's Parties" are included here as comforting lifebuoys amid the otherwise "oppressive, depressive" turbulence). By the year's end she had officially parted company with the group, though spare crusts from the Reed/Cale/Morrison songwriting table (including "Little Sister" and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams") would grace her 1968 MGM/Verve debut LP, Chelsea Girl. Other contributions came courtesy of Jackson Browne, Tim Hardin ("Eulogy to Lenny Bruce") and Bob Dylan, who had especially penned "I'll Keep It with Mine" for her a few years earlier. Later, Nico famously denounced the album, dissatisfied with Tom Wilson's fluttery production and starved of ther Velvets' sado-masochistic psychedelia. There was however one notable exception; the divine cacophony of "It Was a Pleasure Then", a Velvet Underground record in all but name and, significantly, the first to credit Nico as co-composer.

He true artistic baptism finally came with The Marble Index (Elektra, 1969), produced and arranged by John Cale (by that stage, like Nico a VU escapee also) and radically different to anything she'd recorded up to that point. Entirely self-written, its blend of ghostly Gregorian howls over the pagan bellows of her recently acquired harmonium represented less a whole new genre, one weighted with a stark, Middle Age classiciscm which defied all attempts to pigeon hole or label it as mere "rock music".

The Marble Index was where the blonde venus of the 'banana album' became a Wagnerian witch far less familiar, infinitely less accessible. It also marked the first stage in a loose trilogy of sorts that continued with Desertshore (Reprise, 1971) and climaxed on The End (Island, 1974). It's from the latter that this collection sources its darkest and most unremitting highlights; "Secret Side", "Valley of the Kings", "You Forget to Answer" (the last song she would ever perform live) and representing Nico at her cheerless inscrutable ebb, "Innocent and Vain", bookended by the marrow-churning synthesized mutilations of Brian Eno. The same year, Nico joined Eno and Cale at Kevin Ayers' June 1st, 1974 concert at London's Rainbow where she sang the album's title track — a sombre re-working of The Doors classic — in a show-stopping performance of plaintive foreboding. Andend of absolute finality.

Nico and Cale would work together one last time a decade later on Camera Obscura (Beggars Banquet, 1985). Its chaotic recording process and Nico's pitiful existence in those final years of impoverished junkiedom are relayed by keyboard player James Young in Songs They Never Play on the Radio, an excruciating black comedy that anyone intrigued by the contents of this collection definitely ought to read. Three years after that final album, on July 18th, 1988, Nico died of a heart attack while cyling in Ibiza at the age of 45. It's a tell-tale sign of the emotional gravitas Nico's best work evokes that this disc's title track, 1974's "Innocent and Vain", has since been adopted by that more commercially reknowned purveyor of alleged miserabilism, Morrissey. The former Smiths vocalist has for the majority of his solo live performances routinely subjected his audience to its Gothic majesty at full volume prior to taking the stage himself. Interviewed for select magazine in 1994, he played it to his inquisitor commenting "this is my youth in one piece of music. Don't talk while it's on". The journalist noted how throughout "Morrissey sits on the corner of the couch, head bowed, eyes closed, arms folded and fists driven into his armpits ... he looks like he's in hell." Which is precisely where Nico wants us. Here then is the hellist agony and the heavenly ecstasy of all that is Nico. The Velvets' femme fatale. The forlorn folksy Chelsea girl. The harmonium stabbing harpy of utter despair. "I'm going to go subject myself to this damn thing once more," wrote Bangs of Nico's Marble Index LP, "and I certainly hope you bastards appreciate the passion behind this pointless self-torture."

Nico,; as in passionate (never pointless) self-torture ? I don't believe we've been introduced ?

Simon Goddard
Uncut, Autumn 2001

I'll Keep It with Mine (3:17) Taken from the album Chelsea Girl
All Tomorrow's Parties (5:58) Alternate Single Voice Version The Velvet Underground And Nico
You Forget to Answer (5:05) Taken from the album The End
Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (5:07) Taken from the album Chelsea Girl
Valley of the Kings (3:51) Taken from the album The End
Femme Fatale (2:37) Taken from the album The Velvet Underground And Nico
Eulogy to Lenny Bruce (3:45) Taken from the album Chelsea Girl
Secret Side (4:02) Taken from the album The End
Little Sister (4:22) Taken from the album Chelsea Girl
It Was a Pleasure Then (8:02) Taken from the album Chelsea Girl
Innocent and Vain (3:43) Taken from the album The End
The End (8:51) Taken from the album June 1, 1974

© 2002-2011
Serge Mironneau