A companion to the same label's masterful reissue of John Cale's Paris 1919, The Frozen Borderline remasters the two albums that Nico recorded (with Cale in attendance) for Elektra and Reprise in 1968 and 1970, adding a heap of bonus tracks and the kind of deluxe packaging that fans -- accustomed to the cheapness of other Nico repackagings -- have previously only dreamed about. Spread across two discs, one per original LP, the two albums sound spectacular. Neither was exactly a production tour de force, their instrumentation dominated, of course, by harmonium, and the handful of flourishes that Cale layered on. But there was a beauty to that simplicity that always cried out to be opened wider, particularly across the earlier Marble Index, and the sound now fills the room, eerie, exotic, and so expansive. The bonus tracks are a treat. Although Desertshore is bolstered only by half a dozen demos, stripped down even further from the familiar versions, Marble Index adds alternate takes of every cut bar the opening "Prelude," together with four songs sliced from the original LP during mixing -- according to the liners, producer Frazier Mohawk simply couldn't listen to more than eight songs!
Two of the orphans, "Roses in the Snow" and "Nibelungen," saw the light of day on the album's 1991 reissue, albeit in different form -- an alternate version of one, an a cappella mix of the other. The other two, "Sagen die Gelehrten" and "Reve Reveiller," make their debut here and, though neither adds anything more than atmosphere and weight to the album, both are very welcome. A bigger shock, however, is delivered by "Nibelungen." Presented here in its full vocal and instrumental glory, it rises to equal any of Nico's subsequent performances or compositions -- and that includes Desertshore's masterful finale, "All That Is My Own," itself one of Nico's most evocative, haunting performances. Desertshore was Nico's third album in four years; she would never make so many records in so little time again. Indeed, by the time she came to cut her next LP, The End in 1974, she'd been away even longer than Syd Barrett, and was beginning to gather up as many legends and myths. Rock history has forgotten that now, and judges Nico more on the strength of her later career, touring through the 1980s until her death in 1988. This extraordinary package takes listeners back to a time when the first part of that future, at least, seemed impossible.