Although Chelsea Girl (1967) was the first long-player from the German-born Christa Päffgen, it was not her debut solo effort. Prior to becoming involved with the Velvet Underground and while under the direction of Andrew Loog Oldham, Nico issued an obscure 7" on the mod pop Immediate label. The song selection on that 1965 single -- which featured a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'" and an Oldham co-composition with Jimmy Page called "Last Mile" -- foreshadowed the eclectic nature of this LP. Although the dissolution between the vocalist and core instrumental quartet was not without its share of acrimony, the non-percussive contingent of the Velvet Underground is heavily featured on Chelsea Girl: along with then-unknown singer/songwriter Jackson Browne (guitar) -- the vocalist's concurrent love interest -- there is Lou Reed (guitar), Sterling Morrison (guitar/bass), and John Cale (piano/bass/viola), who contrast what they had been doing with the larger combo. These sides are decidedly "unplugged," providing a folky and Baroque setting for Nico's dark and brooding vocal inflections. There is an introspective foresight in Browne's "Fairest of the Seasons," "These Days," and "Somewhere There's a Feather." The minimalist string section features a quaint, yet effective arrangement giving the material a distinctly European feel. These orchestrated folk leanings are similar to the sound emanating from other burgeoning groups such as the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and the Fairport Convention spin-off Fotheringay.The same can be said of her almost unrecognizable reworking of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine." The noir black-widow charm ultimately saves the performance, as does Cale's remarkable classical intonations. With Reed's "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" -- a track which actually predates the Velvet Underground -- there is a sense of history that Nico brings to her interpretation, as if the melody were, in fact, a traditional German folk tune. There is a palpable distinction between those lighter cuts and the menacing Velvet Underground-conceived material. At the center of the project are the extended "It Was a Pleasure Then" and the stunning semi-autobiographical Reed/Morrison title track. The juxtaposition of such honest and at times harrowing imagery to Nico's inherently bleak delivery is nothing short of an inspired artistic statement which has since long outlasted its initial socially relevant context -- similar to the more modern contributions of Laurie Anderson, Ann Magnuson, and Patti Smith. An unqualified masterpiece.
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer