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02 October 2006 @ 07:39 am
Nico + the Faction - Camera Obscura  

The real last album by Nico (the strung together odds-n-sods album 'Hanging Garden' would be released in 1990, after her death), she recorded it in the spring of 1985. John Cale has said that, whatever record label he happened to be on, he always tried to get Nico a home there as well. This was true for his stints at Warner Bros., Island and, for this album, Beggars Banquet.
/ Cale himself recorded the companion album to this, 'Artificial Intelligence,' with the same Keyboardist, James Young, for the Beggars label, also in 1985. She had gone through a rather rough decade since her previous album with Cale, the brilliant but bleak 'the End' (featuring the likes of Eno and Phil Manzanera), falling further into addiction, and falling prey to a number of bad record deals and the awful experience that was her one non-Cale produced studio album, the wretched 'Drama in Exile' (with an okay cover of Bowie's "Heroes" as it's only redeeming factor). 'Camera Obscura' is a marvel, with Cale's production, her vocals and harmonium, James Young's keyboards and electronic percussionist Graham Dids, and English jazz-fusion legend Ian Carr on trumpet on two tracks, it's as minimal and claustrophobic as anything else she'd done with Cale. It begins with the title track, an instrumental born in the studio that seems improvised, but its dankness and uncertainty set the mood of the album rather nicely. Her version "My Funny Valentine" is the first amazing thing on the album, haunting, unsettlingly beautiful, Carr's trumpet soloing works nicely against her voice. Even though her vocals work well within the context of the electronics, the electronics seem a bit dated sounding, an unavoidable situation that also afflicted Cale's album, but it's no less charming for it. With "Fearfully in Danger" and "My Heart is Empty" you can kind of see where Nico's life was at, and with "Fearfully..." you're almost convinced she's not going to show up, after a full three and a half minutes pass before her vocals come in. "My Heart is Empty" could almost be a Kate Bush song from the same era ('Hounds of Love') musically, and "Into the Arena" features more echoed trumpet from Ian Carr, an almost perfect assemblage of electronics, trumpet and voice that make it rather chilling. The album ends with the purest of Nico sounds, just her voice and harmonium, on "Konig" ("King"), a song so bleakly serene it could easily be from 'Marble Index' or 'Desertshore.' Standing as her final finished musical testament, it would all get worse before it got better for Nico, who would ultimately get straight only to die in 1988 from a cerebral hemorrage, caused by a bicycle accident. Amazingly, her actual musical legacy is only the five fully authorized studio albums, the rest are either unfinished projects, the hijacked 'Drama...' album (remixed by her one-time bassist)and a slew of nefariously assembled live releases (and her one authorized live release, which was her part of the 'June, 1, 1974' album which also features Cale, Kevin Ayers and Eno, with each allotted equal time). For further reading on her final years there is James Young's bleak biography 'the End,' but the best overview of her life was the fine movie 'Nico Icon.'
the lunatic is: into the arena
happy sad?: gloomyfearfully in danger
what is that?: nico