Femme fatale from fantasy: Nico’s companion updates his aural memoir of the late chanteuse.
Some recollections don’t fade away but get embellished as the years go passing by: that’s how it’s been for this artist. In 1982, when he was almost 30, James Young met his heroine Nico and exchanged Oxford studentship for touring and recording with her, which became a subject of a book titled “Songs They Never Play On The Radio” that the Brit released in the next decade to turn, after an invitation from Creation’s Alan McGee, into an album in 1994. Fast forward to here and now, and a new version of it is drastically different, given only a few cross-referenced tracks and a lot of new material.
Creating cinematic experience with a couple of instrumental interludes which emotionally enrich storytelling songs, Young may evoke the very spirit of his friend, yet it’s far removed from a real person this time, as romantic tracks such as a heartbeat-hiding, Eurocentric “She’s In My Eyes” suggest, although James doesn’t idealize Nico. With a mournful drone to the title track to bemoan her absence from the waves, the singer’s stance is bitter, but there’s also consolation in the piece’s minimal setting that progressively takes in a glorious trumpet lick and vibes’ silver lining to turn memories into a reverie. Here’s why spoken words of the piano-rippled “Down By The Wannasee” hit so much: when doom and gloom enter a dream, you can’t retrieve the good old days.
Yes, a live version of “She’s In My Eyes” has this misty quality, yet the turning of “Planet Pussy” as it was titled on the original release into the ashen “Planete Poussiere” removed sexuality from a picture of the past. Young’s velvet voice in “The Door” – set against an urgent strum in a Leonard manner – marks the point of no return without stripping it of expectancy which is a front of “The Cigarette Ends” whose beats and splashes are shaped into danse macabre, with a sense of fatality filling “Plastik Exploding Inevitable” where tinkling and repeated phrases take on sinister form.
All of it form a reflection of Nico, a distant image of a tragic figure. It’s so haunting that no explanation is needed as to why those songs are never played on the radio: phantom pain is hard to bear.