If the city of New York didn't exist, Lou Reed would have had to invent it in order to create a suitable environment for himself, a place where high art and street-level rock & roll stand side by side. New York figured so prominently in Reed's music, it's surprising it took him until 1989 to make an album simply called New York, a set of 14 scenes and sketches from the city that was his spiritual home. As a songwriter, New York is the strongest and best-realized set of songs in Reed's solo catalog; while his superb 1982 comeback The Blue Mask sometimes found him reaching for his effects, New York's accumulated details and deftly drawn caricatures hit bull's-eye after bull's-eye for 57 minutes, all with an easy stride and striking lyrical facility. New York also found Reed writing about the larger world rather than personal concerns for a change, and in the beautiful, decaying heart of New York City, he found plenty to talk about -- the devastating impact of AIDS in "Halloween Parade," the vicious circle of child abuse in "Endless Cycle," the plight of the homeless in "Xmas in February." Even on the songs where he pointedly mounts a soapbox ("There Is No Time," "Hold On," and "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim"), he does so with a down-to-earth intelligence and smart-assed wit that makes him sound opinionated rather than preachy; the specific details of his rants may have faded into memory a few decades later, but the essential themes still ring true. When Reed looks into his own life, it's with humor and perception; "Beginning of a Great Adventure" is a hilarious meditation on the possibilities of parenthood, and "Dime Store Mystery" is a moving elegy to his former patron Andy Warhol. Reed introduced a new band on this set, and though guitarist Mike Rathke didn't challenge him the way Robert Quine did, he didn't need much prodding to play at the peak of his game, and Rob Wasserman's fluid, inventive bass and Fred Maher's precise drumming are strong, smart, and rock hard. Produced with subtle intelligence and a welcome absence of flash, New York is a masterpiece of literate, adult rock & roll, and the finest album of Lou Reed's solo career.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming