Nico "Chelsea Girl" RE LP (2017)
Details: The 2017 US reissue of Nico: Chelsea Girl on black vinyl, released by Republic Records, no hype sticker on packaging, but item comes sealed and new mint/unopened.
Description: "... Despite its historical accolades, their 1967 album The Velvet Underground & Nico was considered a commercial and financial failure, and as a result, the band was not playing many shows. Nico began a solo residency at the St. Marks' street club The Dom where she was initially accompanied by a tape deck playing Reed’s pre-recorded guitar solos. Apparently, it was painfully awkward, and soon Nico was joined by the actual Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Tim Buckley, and a young Jackson Browne, who later became her lover. In the final weeks of Nico’s residency, the Velvets presented her with an opportunity to join them on tour. Nico chose to stay in New York, symbolically ending her time with the Velvet Underground. “I have a habit of leaving places at the wrong time, just when something big might have happened for me,” she would say.
But something big was happening for Nico. Her 1967 solo debut Chelsea Girl would be her first step towards claiming herself as an artist and individual. Although the record’s 10 sparse folk-pop songs were written by Nico’s male collaborators—Browne, Reed, Cale, Bob Dylan, Morrison, and Tim Hardin—Chelsea Girl is not a covers record. Rather, these were the unreleased songs she had acquired through her residency at The Dom. Like her songs on The Velvet Underground & Nico, each track is a remarkable communion between writer and singer. “I am the person, the Chelsea Girl,” Nico declared while revisiting the hotel years later. The record takes its name from Warhol’s split-screen 1966 experimental film Chelsea Girls, which documents the mundane activities of scenesters at the legendary Chelsea Hotel. “Chelsea Girl” is a continuation of the film in the form of a ballad about the hotel’s S&M queens, Superstars, and junkies; every character’s verse contains a heartbreaking epitaph like, “Her future died/In someone’s past.”
Chelsea Girl presents a young woman torn between the regrets of her past and the unknown but hopeful future. Browne’s three contributions—“These Days,” “The Fairest of the Seasons” and “Somewhere There’s a Feather”—are introspective meditations on change backed up by Cale’s chirping viola and Browne’s gentle acoustic guitar. “These Days,” the ultimate loner anthem and the most famous song of Nico’s career, has been covered by artists from Drake to Elliott Smith and is as iconic as Nico herself. It’s no wonder Wes Anderson chose to use it as a theme of sorts for The Royal Tenenbaums’ Margot, a character whose mystery and sadness is as heavy as her mink coat. But upon listening to Browne’s twangy version of “These Days,” it becomes obvious that Nico’s droning, Germanic drawl is what makes the song so affecting.
While Browne focuses on transitions, Cale pushes Nico into a more esoteric realm. On “Little Sister” (co-written with Reed), Nico’s voice is flat and brooding in direct contrast to the whimsical organ which pipes along beside her. She sings in “perfect mellow ovals” as Goldstein wrote in 1966. “It sounds something like a cello getting up in the morning.” “Winter Song” on the other hand, basks in an almost medieval atmosphere which is heightened lyrically by talk of “tyranny,” “royal decay,” and the “worshipping wicked.” The closest thing to a Velvet Underground song on Chelsea Girl is Reed, Nico, and Cale’s hefty eight-minute “It Was a Pleasure Then.” While Cale’s viola groans with distortion and Reed’s guitar drives into darkness, Nico’s voice soars into a wordless soprano at the peak of her range. She draws out the words until they lose definition and simply become expressions.
Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” provides some levity at the end of Chelsea Girl. Though Judy Collins also claimed that Dylan wrote the song for her, technically he wrote it while on vacation in Greece with Nico in 1964. Whereas Collins’ version is an alarmingly cheery love song drowning in organ, Nico’s take indulges in darkness despite the poppy orchestra backing her up. “I’ll Keep It With Mine” brings Nico full-circle from “I’m Not Sayin,” and would be the last time she ever made a song so conventional.
Reactions to Chelsea Girl was at best indifferent and at worst, sexist. One Los Angeles Times writer remarked, “Nico’s a classy girl, but they’d sell more Nico if she were naked...and not hiding behind a string orchestra in a flower print dress.” For her next record, 1968’s wintry The Marble Index, Nico picked up the harmonium and wrote all of the songs after being encouraged by her “soul brother” and part-time lover Jim Morrison to document her dreams. She dyed her blonde hair with henna and traded her white clothing for an all-black ensemble. “I felt that at last, I was independent and that I knew what independence was,” she said.
But while Nico was taking some control of her music, her life was spiraling. There was the time in 1974 that she performed the German national anthem “Das Lied der Deutschen” including the verses that were banned in 1945 due to their Nazi associations. A year later, Nico was dropped from Island because she told a reporter that she “didn’t like negroes.” In an alleged instance in the early ’70s, Nico declared that she “hate[d] black people,” smashed a wine glass on a table, and stabbed the eye of a mixed-race singer who worked with Jimi Hendrix. Concert footage of a middle-aged Nico in the early ’80s portrays her as a skeletal figure with gaunt cheeks, rotten teeth, and sunken eyes from a disturbing heroin addiction. It’s as if Nico found power in destroying her image.
Nico once admitted that she could not relate to the songs Reed wrote for her. “I can’t identify with that,” she said of “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “to notice only the beautiful and not the ugliness.” Despite its melancholy, Chelsea Girl is still very much caught up in this world of the Screen Test, one focused on ineffable, alluring melancholy. To today’s casual Nico fans, she still exists in this bubble, a blonde monolith in a white pantsuit, a vessel for dreams and desires. But to consider Nico as frozen in her Chelsea Girl years is a disservice to the active efforts she made later in life to move beyond her image. But consider all of Nico, the strange circumstances of the Velvet Underground, the image of Chelsea Girl, and the horrific, inexcusable actions of her later life. It’s a wholeness she craved all along."--excerpt of a review by writer Quinn Moreland, Pitchfork
Grade: M (new stock)
TRACK LISTING SIDE A:
A1. The Fairest Of The Seasons
A2. These Days
A3. Little Sister
A4. Winter Song
A5. It Was A Pleasure Then
TRACK LISTING SIDE B:
B1. Chelsea Girls
B2. I'll Keep It With Mine
B3. Somewhere There's A Feather
B4. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
B5. Eulogy to Lenny Bruce