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Camera Obscura

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Album Review

The most noticeable thing about Camera Obscura, only Nico's sixth solo album in almost 20 years, is how relaxed she seems. Maybe it was a result of the security that now enveloped her, following her rediscovery and total reinvention in the arms of the British post-punk/goth scene — people say that artists do their best work while they're living on the edge, and Nico's canon was living proof of that. But it was all behind her now and, if Camera Obscura does not sound positively comfortable, it's at least less despairing than its predecessors. Not that she had changed her stance too much — listening to Nico remains a cathartic, solitary experience. But the claustrophobia that was so essential to each of her albums as far as Drama of Exile has given way to vistas that, aided by John Cale's wide-open production, render Camera Obscura an easy listen by comparison. Indeed, the reliance on the studio is so pronounced that there are moments when the album's closest antecedent lies in Cale's own past albums, with Nico's voice buried so deeply inside the mix that it's almost unnoticeable. Both the (studio improvised?) title cut and the lengthy "Fearfully in Danger" are absolutely Cale territory and, if Nico is allowed to shine at all, it's on "My Funny Valentine," executed precisely as one would hope she'd do it — all sad and dark, with just a faint smile playing around her lips — and "Das Lied Von Einsanen Madchens," a strident Teutonic ballad that, were its source better known, would doubtless be as universally effective as her rendition of "Deutschland Uber Alles" proved a decade before. The title, incidentally, translates as "the song of the lonely girls," a subject about which Nico certainly knew a thing or two. Camera Obscura is not classic Nico, but it's by no means disposable. Indeed, accepting that Cale's overwhelming presence should at least earn him a co-billing in the credits, there really is no one else who could have made a record like this.

Biography

Born: 16 October 1938 in Cologne, Germany

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

One of the most fascinating figures of rock's fringes, Nico hobnobbed, worked, and was romantically linked with an incredible assortment of the most legendary entertainers of the '60s. The paradox of her career was that she herself never attained the fame of her peers, pursuing a distinctly individualistic and uncompromising musical career that was uncommercial, but wholly admirable and influential. Nico first rose to fame as a European supermodel, also landing a bit part in Fellini's La Dolce Vita...
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