I have to admit that I bought this LP, Nico’s The Drama Of Exile, solely for the covers. Produced during a period when Nico was deep in a hole with her heroin habit – often living in squalid conditions – it`s a record played and made by junkies – and dealers – that glib, cynical history would have (re)written off as a project undertaken purely for cash, and drugs. Completely ignoring its protagonist`s commitment to her artistry. There`s documented drama around the album’s 1981, and then 1983, release, since the person who paid for the sessions – at Tulse Hill`s Gooseberry Studios – Annette Peacock`s producer, Aaron Sixx, had to seize the tapes. It`s a story that will never be cleared up since, the other key players – Nico`s French / Corsican Ladbroke Grove flatmates*, Nadette Duget and Philippe Quilichini (who`d both previously worked with The Congos) – died, mysteriously – anorexia? an overdose? a head-on collision? – shortly after. Shrouded in shadowy myth, the music, then, came as a revelation.
The original songs forego the haunting, spectral, harmonium hallucinations of The Marble Index and Desert Shore, sides for which Nico is better known, and instead, with a full band in tow, come on like Joy Division (the slow, hypnotic, Saeta), Public Image (One More Chance), and Talking Heads (Vegas` itchy funk). 60/40`s mix of military snares and ethereal siren-like synths could be a Velvet Underground outtake. Everything features churning, chugging, tribal rhythms, and clashes of angular new wave and intricate, exotic, Middle Eastern-tinged, Tuareg-tuned, guitar. Genghis Khan creates the template for cosmic / Balearic favourites, Saada Bonaire.
Then there`s those covers…the brilliant bass-driven disco-not-disco take on Bowie & Eno’s Heroes, an electric violin scratching away. It ain`t better than David’s original, nothing can top / beat that, but now forever tied, in my mind at least, to Uli Edel`s film Christiane F – documenting the day to day lives of the children lost in the late `70s opiate epidemic around Berlin`s Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten Station, or “Zoo” – a female lead feels somehow appropriate. Plus, the words about the wall seem, well, just right sung with a strong Teutonic accent.
Waiting For My Man gets a riotous “punk” rock reading, where it sounds like Nico’s finally having fun. I can see her rolling her eyes at the song’s punch-line. The piece perhaps sparking a little personal nostalgia. There is absolutely no glamour in being an addict, but there is a ridiculousness to some of the situations you’ll find yourself in.** In an interview held at the time, Nico confessed that, as a member of The Velvets., she’d always wanted to sing the song, but that “Lou (Reed) wouldn’t let me.” She added that, “I know a little more about the subject now.”
*Where Nico was shooting Thai smack, and hanging out with Neneh Cherry and Rip, Rig, And Panic.
** Who didn’t laugh at Trainspotting?
Nico`s still disputed The Drama Of Exile has been repressed by Italian label, Lantern Rec. Information regarding the record is taken from Jennifer Otter Bickerdike`s brilliant Nico biography, You Are Beautiful And You Are Alone, published by Faber & Faber.