The Marble Index (album)

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The Marble Index
NICOMARBLEINDEX.JPG
Studio album by Nico
Released November 1968
Recorded September 1968
Studio Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles, United States
Genre Avant-garde
Length 30:48
Label Elektra
Producer Frazier Mohawk
Nico chronology
Chelsea Girl
(1967)
The Marble Index
(1969)
Desertshore
(1970)

The Marble Index is the second studio album by German musician Nico, released in November 1968. Produced by Frazier Mohawk, it was released on Elektra Records. Described by critic Simon Reynolds as "one of the most harrowing and death-fixated albums in rock history",[1] The Marble Index was written by Nico and features musical arrangements by John Cale, who had worked briefly with Nico during her collaboration with the Velvet Underground.

Though a commercial failure upon release, the record has since received acclaim from music critics and has influenced decades of music to come.

Background and recording[edit]

The Marble Index was produced in a period of Nico's life that biographers tend to barely probe.[2] Jim Morrison, who Nico later referred to as "[her] soul brother", encouraged her to write her own songs; Simon Reynolds described this as "a key breakthrough for [her]."[3] A hippie in San Francisco sold Nico a harmonium,[4] an instrument with which "she discovered not only her own artistic voice, but a whole new realm of sound."[5] The droning pump organ became her trademark.[6]

Regarding the album's recording process, John Cale remarked, "I was pretty much left alone for two days, and I let [Nico] in at the end. I played her [the album] song by song, and she'd burst into tears. 'Oh! It's so beautiful!', 'Oh, it's so beautiful!' You know, this is the same stuff that people tell me, 'Oh! It's so suicidal!'"[4]

The album takes its title from The Prelude, magnum opus of William Wordsworth; in it he contemplates a statue of Isaac Newton "with his prism and silent face / The marble index of a mind for ever / Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone."[7]

Composition[edit]

The music of the album was a new style for Nico, distancing herself from rock and pop.[5][8] Anne Marie Micklo, in her 1969 Rolling Stone review, described it as "mood music, with an obscure and elusive text recited over it."[9] The album also unveiled Nico's songwriting, as Chelsea Girl featured none of her compositions. Her lyrics deal with introspective and somber themes. The tracks were originally recordings of Nico singing over her droning harmonium; Cale later added musical arrangements on top, reminiscent of European classical, avant-garde and folk music.[8][10] The resulting soundscape has been described as "stark", "dislocating", "extreme" and "frightening". Anthony Carew of About.com described it thus: "Bleeding out sombre laments and brutal dirges of intense medievalism, she sounds for all the world like she's wandering through the valley of death".[5] Richie Unterberger of AllMusic described it as "an uncompromisingly bleak, gothic soundscape".[8]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
About.com 4.5/5 stars[5]
AllMusic 3/5 stars[8]
Lester Bangs favorable[11]
The Guardian favorable[12]
NME 7/10[13]
Pitchfork favorable[14]
Rolling Stone positive (1969)[9]
3.5/5 stars (1992)[15]
Sputnikmusic 1/5 stars[16]

Though a commercial failure upon release, the record has since received acclaim from music critics and has influenced decades of music to come.[8] Anthony Carew of About.com wrote: "Over four decades after its release, 1969's The Marble Index still sounds shocking; a work of radical avant-gardism cloaked in immediacy and intimacy; a suite of rootless songs written with little precedent, disconnected from what came before. That sense of being unmoored only adds to the genuine unease of these songs, which often exist without any kind of constant rhythm. [...] It makes for an astonishing haunting, the work of a woman who, even whilst alive, seemed a lot like a ghost."[5] Music journalist Lester Bangs considered The Marble Index "the greatest piece of 'avant-garde classical' 'serious' music of the last half of the 20th century so far", although he also famously wrote it "scared the shit out of [him]."[11]

Dorian Lynskey, writing for The Guardian, called it "a remarkable record, one with the annihilating beauty of a late Rothko painting".[12] NME's Anthony Thornton likewise described it as "Bleak but beautiful" and "the most fitting embodiment of [Nico's] doomed glamour."[13] Spin wrote "Few records, before or since, have sounded lonelier, spookier, or more desolate."

Legacy[edit]

Spin wrote: "[The Marble Index] set the tone for decades of music to come — Arthur Russell, Dead Can Dance, Fennesz, Zola Jesus, Grouper, pretty much every metal band that ever used a harpsichord — but few followers have sailed so near to the edge of the abyss with such chillingly beautiful results."[7] Richie Unterberger of AllMusic wrote that "it proved to be quite influential in the long run on a future generation of black-clad goth rockers".[8]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Nico. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Prelude"   1:00
2. "Lawns of Dawns"   3:11
3. "No One Is There"   3:37
4. "Ari's Song"   3:21
5. "Facing the Wind"   4:55
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)"   5:02
7. "Frozen Warnings"   4:02
8. "Evening of Light"   5:40

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1996). The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll. Harvard University Press. pp. 300–301. ISBN 978-0674802735. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Lindsay, Matthew (14 January 2013). "Nico: Facing the Wind – The Marble Index Trilogy". The Quietus. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Reynolds, Simon (16 March 2007). "From the Velvets to the Void". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Witts, Richards (1995). Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0863696558. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Carew, Anthony. "Nico The Marble Index – Review of Nico's Definitive Alternative Album The Marble Index". About.com. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "Nico Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Nico – The Marble Index (Elektra, 1968) | Spin". Spin. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Unterberger, Richie. "The Marble Index – Nico | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards |". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Micklo, Anne Marie (March 15, 1969). "[The Marble Index review]". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  10. ^ Howard, David N. (2004). Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 184. ISBN 978-0634055607. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Bangs, Lester (2008). Morthland, John, ed. Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader. Random House. pp. 205–213. ISBN 978-0375713675. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  12. ^ a b Lynskey, Dorian (14 October 2008). "Nico's The Marble Index Is Hard Listening but Worth It | Music | The Guardian". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Thornton, Anthony (10 August 2005). "NME Reviews – Nico : The Marble Index | NME.com". NME. IPC Media. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Masters, Marc (9 March 2007). "Nico: The Frozen Borderline: 1968–1970 | Album Reviews | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  15. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly (1992). The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Random House. p. 508. ISBN 0679737294. 
  16. ^ Arp, Louis (7 May 2005). "Nico – The Marble Index (Album Review) | Sputnikmusic". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 

External links[edit]