While Nico was the member of the Velvet Underground who had had the least experience in music prior to joining the group (while she had recorded a pop single in England, she'd never been a member of a working band before Andy Warhol introduced her to the Velvets), she was also the one who strayed farthest from traditional rock & roll after her brief tenure with the band, and by the time she recorded Desertshore, her work had little (if anything) to do with traditional Western pop. John Cale, who produced and arranged Desertshore, once described the music as having more to do with 20th century classical music than anything else, and while that may be going a bit far to make a point, even compared to the avant-rock frenzy of the Velvet Underground's early material, Desertshore is challenging stuff. Nico's dour Teutonic monotone is a compelling but hardly welcoming vocal presence, and the songs, centered around the steady drone of her harmonium, are often grim meditations on fate that are crafted and performed with inarguable skill and intelligence, but are also a bit samey, and the album's downbeat tone gets to be rough sledding by the end of side two. Cale's arrangements are superb throughout, and "My Only Child," "Afraid," and "The Falconer" are quite beautiful in their own ascetic way, but like the bulk of Nico's repertoire, Desertshore is an album practically designed to polarize its listeners; you'll either embrace it's darkness or give up on it before the end of side one. Then again, given the thoroughly uncompromising nature of her career as a musician, that's probably just what Nico had in mind.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming