Strikingly and unexpectedly, Lou Reed's "Berlin" … is one of the strongest, most original rock records in years….
His last two albums had their virtues, but left him open to the charge of being burned out. Now, with "Berlin," he has proven conclusively that he must be counted as one of the most important figures in contemporary rock….
Reed is really a poetic artist who creates unified statements through the medium of the rock record. The backings are clothed in rock dress, but the form is more operatic and cinematic than strictly musical in the traditional pop sense, and the sentiments are entirely personal.
Where others prance and play at evoking an aura of drugs and sexual aberrance, Reed is coldly real. "Berlin" is a typically dreamlike saga of a sado-masochistic love affair in contemporary Berlin. But the contemporaneity is enriched by a subtle acknowledgment of [Bertolt] Brecht and [Kurt] Weill, and the potential sensationalism of the subject is calmly defused by a sort of hopeless matter-of-factness.
Reed doesn't revel in his characters' promiscuity and indifference and quick descent into violence and tragedy. He just tells his story, and lets the music, through a steady accumulation of strings and other "classical" effects, lift it up to the level of a moral allegory. There is a touch of soap-opera sentimentality on the second side, but it is hardly enough to spoil the record's over-all effect.
Through it all, Reed's poetic and melodic inspiration are at their compulsive, insistent best.
John Rockwell, "Pop: The Glitter Is Gold," in The New York Times (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 9, 1973, p. 34.