The Marble Index


Elektra, 1968

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka


Like most fans of rock music, I had heard of Nico through her association with the Velvet Underground on their first album. Her singing is unmistakable with its thick German accent and chant-like phrasing. She had previously been in movies and worked as a model – and she was stunningly beautiful.

I was aware that after the Velvet Underground album, she recorded several solo albums. However, when I encountered her 1968 album The Marble Index, I was totally unprepared – even beginning with the album cover, with her once-blonde hair now dark, her eyes glaring back at you hypnotically. The picture is in stark black-and-white, giving her face a cold, stone-like quality against the dark background. The sets the stage for its contents. The title is drawn from a passage in Wordsworth’s magnum opus, “The Prelude” (1850). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

Unlike her previous album, Chelsea Girl (1967), which consisted of songs written by other songwriters, The Marble Index consists entirely of Nico’s own compositions. Her voice follows meandering melodies that can perhaps be best approximated to medieval plainsong or Gregorian chants. Rather than skewing or appropriating some popular convention, this album exist as entity unto itself, almost completely disconnected from the continuum of American popular music.

This was set against a chilling and brooding backdrop of harmonium and John Cale’s dissonant grind and whine of bow against strings. This resulting sound alternates between that of dreams and nightmares.

Gone are the familiar chord progressions and beat from popular music, along with the guitar, bass, and drums. Though Nico is completely inaccessible as a personality here, the half-chant, half-singing is delivered with total conviction. The music is weird and otherworldly.

While this is certain to repel all but the most adventurous listeners, it is actually strangely compelling and hypnotic. It has an intensity that does not require shouting or screaming, no crash-and-boom of percussion. Even in an era that produced artists like Captain Beefheart, Skip Spence, and Syd Barrett, this album still stands out as utterly original.

Rating: B+

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