January 10, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
"I'll take Manhattan in a garbage bag, with Latin written on it that says, 'it's hard to give a shit these days.'"
So deadpans Lou Reed on "Romeo Had Juliette," the lead off track from his acclaimed 15th album New York, released on this very date three decades ago. New York is the sound of a bitter Reed lamenting the rapid decay of his urban utopia (and, to a lesser extent, America at large). "Every day when I go outside I see the result of emptying the mental hospitals, of not having enough halfway houses, of having all kinds of services cut," he told Rolling Stone that year. "... I'm trying to make you feel the situation we're in — feel what it's like — and I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way."
Reed succeeded, if critics are any indication. The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot called New York "a searing song cycle." Village Voice guru Robert Christgau awarded it an A-, commenting that "the pleasure of the lyrics is mostly tone and delivery — plus the impulse they validate, their affirmation that you can write songs about this stuff." In a four-star review for Rolling Stone, Anthony DeCurits declared New York to be Reed's Bonfire of the Vanities. "[The] guitar tone is a miracle of inspired distortion, a sonic distillation of the streets. The sound Reed employs on this album perfectly compliments his sense."
As deft and satisfying as New York is, it stalled on our pop charts at #40. Meanwhile, it rocketed to #8 in Austria and #1 in Switzerland. Not bad for an album that criticizes the Pope and Jesse Jackson in the same song!