“Desertshore” by Nico - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1970Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

High art prevails on the fourth LP to bear Nico’s name, the second of her neo-classical trilogy. Having plundered Wordsworth’s “The Prelude” (1799) for “The Marble Index” two years earlier, our cultured heroine was at it again, delving into William Blake’s “Visions of the Daughters of Albion” (1793) for her follow-up:

“At entrance Theotormon sits, wearing the threshold hard. With secret tears; beneath him sound like waves on a desert shore, the voice of slaves beneath the sun, and children bought with money, that shiver in religious caves beneath the burning fires of lust, that belch incessant from the summits of the earth.”

All of Blake’s mystical imagery was reflected here both in audio and in film, the two subsequent productions being intrinsically linked, I feel. Having fled New York after a drunken altercation which left her fearful for her very life, Nico’s latest musical adventure, recorded in London, was conceived in Rome. Whilst in Italy, she had become romantically involved with French director Philippe Garrel. Her new songs inspired him towards “La Cicatrice Interieure” (“The Inner Scar”), a visually stunning 60 minute avant-garde film, which was shot in 3 barren locations; Egypt’s Sinai Desert, California’s Death Valley and various naturistic landscapes that could only be Icelandic.

The film, basically scriptless, had occasional dialogue in three languages; English, German and French (notably, the album matched this tri-lingual presentation). Nico herself had the lead role, her anciently-robed character portraying broken frailties and majestic strengths in various scenes constantly filmed against visually stunning backdrops. Her son, Christian, also got to play a part (the album cover depicts a still from the film where he can be seen leading Nico on the horse) and, for the second album-in-a-row he has a song dedicated to him; “My Only Child”. He even gets to sing one – “Le Petit Chevalier” – cute, but definitely the album’s one slip from greatness. I wonder what the young boy made of it all? My guess is he would have had a great time shooting that film, a chance to spend some memorable time with Mum.

Musically, Nico had 6 pieces in the film: “Janitor of Lunacy”, “My Only Child”, “All That Is My Own”, “Abschied”, an “Unknown Instrumental” and “König”. The first four of these feature here on the “Desertshore” LP. I speculate that “König” may have been created after the album was released; note that the finished film was only first premiered in February, 1972, some 15 months after the LP. Nico and her rusty, trusty harmonium are exquisitely accompanied throughout by the amazing John Cale on piano, (some sort of) woodwind, harpsichord and viola, as well as an unidentified trumpet player, possibly procured by co-producer Joe Boyd, who had recently worked similar wonders with Nick Drake’s “Five Leaves Left”. Cale’s beautifully poised embellishments are the epitome of a perfect producer at work. She was lucky to have him.

For the second album-in-a-row, all songs come from Nico’s quill; in this regard it’s truly astonishing just how much strength she had gained through Jim Morrison’s encouragement. Her boldness was extra-ordinary, and her singular vision unmatched by anyone, anywhere. There can be very little doubt that she was at her creative peak at this stage. Ancient Viking goddess, or hopelessly lost in the desert? Perhaps, she was both. This work is rooted in medieval angst, where mystical matters dominate souls. It’s understandable that Nico alienated most in her time. Maybe she functioned better that way, distanced from pop pollution. There are some beautiful dreams in here; but deeply dark nightmares seem to cloud them over. Nico dared to venture where no-one else would, or could, and the end results were intensely compelling.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [04:01] 9.6.png Nico - Janitor Of Lunacy (Christa Päffgen) Alternative Folk
A2 [05:39] 9.2.png Nico - The Falconer (Christa Päffgen) Alternative Folk
A3 [03:27] 8.9.png Nico - My Only Child (Christa Päffgen) Alternative Folk
A4 [01:12] 6.4.png Nico - Le Petit Chevalier (Christa Päffgen) Alternative Folk
B1 [03:02] 8.3.png Nico - Abschied (Christa Päffgen) Alternative Folk
B2 [03:27] 7.6.png Nico - Afraid (Christa Päffgen) Songwriter
B3 [04:38] 9.8.png Nico - Mütterlein (Christa Päffgen) Moodcore
B4 [03:54] 10.0.png Nico - All That Is My Own (Christa Päffgen) Alternative Folk

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