Nico – “The Marble Index” (1968 / 1991)

I recently ordered a copy of this CD after reading an article about it written by the immortal rock critic Lester Bangs. Lester wrote, I think The Marble Index is the greatest piece of ‘avant-garde classical’ ‘serious’ music of the last half of the 20th Century so far.” That’s one hell of an endorsement, and I figured it was worth the $6 to check out this album.

And I was wrong.

I’m sure there are fans of this album out there, and they will sneer at my musical ignorance in not fully understanding, comprehending, or opening myself up to what Nico was trying to accomplish here. She and John Cale, who worked together on some Velvet Underground material as well, made an album in which the music, such as it is, and the vocals don’t go together. Cale’s music is like a bunch of instruments playing different songs mashed up into one track, while Nico sounds like she’s singing in some weird Irish brogue on songs that might appear in a Cirque du Soleil show. Except without the cool acrobatics to distract you from how awful the music is.

I’m sure Nico was plumbing some deep emotional places here, and the discordant music was part of that feeling. But when you make something that isn’t enjoyable to listen to, it’s hard to get your message across to people, at least it is when you’re putting out an album. If it’s supposed to be something pretentious that derives it’s value from being unapproachable, then The Marble Index succeeds. Either way, I want my six dollars and 40 minutes back.