Saturday, June 02, 2007

What would life be like if it never changed? Installment 7

More thoughts on my Top Ten Life-Changing Albums. Thanks to Eek for beginning the thread that led me to this list.

(Note: Italics indicate my initial response to Eek's challenge; the rest constitutes my further thoughts on the subject).

7. Chelsea Girl, Nico. Poor Nico; love her or hate her, she was one sad person. I am never sure why one person’s sadness turned into art has the ability to uplift another, but that’s pretty much the story here. Hearing this album may have been my first look into true empathy.

Though Nico would go on to fashion a unique brand of Gothic music, something about the sheer folkiness of this debut remains innocently engaging, while managing to telegraph the darker stylings to come.

In collaboration with Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed and John Cale, as well as Jackson Browne, among others, Nico delivers the goods with her typical chilling Germanic vocals. Set atop fingerpicked acoustic guitars and baroque strings (think: "Eleanor Rigby"), the effect should be off-putting but is instead disarming.

The songs "The Fairest of the Season," "Little Sister," and "These Days" are achingly sad and full of yearning. "These Days," in particular is full of haunted, broken feelings and confessional lyrics that Nico interprets with a detached heartbreak that is devastating, though beautiful:
"Please don't confront me with my failures,
I have not forgotten them."

The title cut (which is actually called "Chelsea Girls," plural) is vaguely disquieting, clearly bearing the stamp of Lou Reed, and sounding like a minor key first draft of "Walk on the Wild Side." An eerie, questioning flute embroiders the melody throughout.

Nico probably made better and more influential records (covering The Doors' "The End," and making it her own on the album of the same name, for example). Her legacy is more firmly rooted in the creepier, dirgy songs she produced later in her career. But something was captured on Chelsea Girl that set the tone: her world-weariness is already in place on this disc of quiet, thoughtful songs, and for newcomers to the Nico experience, this is a great place to begin.

It's impossible to hear these songs and not feel the sorrow that was the daily stuff of Nico's life. If you're willing to make the journey, chances are you'll return with a renewed appreciation for your own feelings, and be the better for it.

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