Chelsea Girl


Verve Records, 1967

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka


Born Christa Päffgen in Germany, Nico is perhaps most widely remembered for her collaboration with the Velvet Underground on their debut album (you know the one – with the banana on the cover). Her odd, heavily accented desafinado singing stood out on that album, adding to the other aspects of that made that otherwise groundbreaking album.

After the release of the Velvet Underground, Nico went off to record her first solo album, Chelsea Girl, which shared its title with the Andy Warhol movie (in which she starred). All of the songs on the album were written by other songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, John Cale, and a young Jackson Browne. The result was an attempt at a conventional collection of interpretations of folk-rock and pop songs, but sung and interpreted in the way only Nico can do. But hey, if a record company could pull it off with Bob Dylan, why not Nico? my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Recorded without the standard pop rhythm section of drums and bass, she is accompanied almost exclusively by guitar, strings, and the occasional flute. While the strings on some of the songs were typical orchestral-style arrangements, others employed John Cale’s avant-garde screech-and-buzz.

Some of the songs, being ill-suited for Nico’s singing style, really miss their mark, but none more so that her version of Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” Others including “Eulogy To Lenny Bruce” and “Somewhere There’s A Feather” also suffer for the same reason: most of these songs required a singer with more range and more formal vocal chops. In spite of this, she still manages to do a fair job with the album opener, Browne’s “The Fairest Of Seasons,” possibly the most conventional song on the album.

However, all is not lost. The songs that Lou Reed and John Cale wrote suit her style far better. Songs like “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” (not to be confused with the standard written in 1931 by Harry Barris, of the same title) and “Chelsea Girls” are the highlights on the album. Other Reed/Cale contributions didn’t fare as well, such as “It Was A Pleasure Then” or “Little Sister.”

For the label to attempt to shoehorn a figure like Nico into a run-of-the-mill pop singer mold did her a real disservice. Even bringing in a squad an accomplished songwriters and a producer like Tom Wilson could not overcome this. Nico reportedly hated the album (in retrospect). In the end, this album proved to be a constrictive chrysalis from which the strange, otherworldly style of hers would emerge on her albums to follow.

Rating: C+

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