This was a fairly staggering conception, warts and all, and it wouldn't be until the next release that Wilco truly become masters of the artform, but it's quite a worthy, powerful ride for what it is. The record, for the first place, should have been on one CD and trimmed a bit. There are some half-songs ("Red Eyed and Blue," "I've Got You," which while peppy has some pretty dumb lyrics, and "Kingpin") and it gets a bit mired in its own moroseness towards the end (though "(Was I) In Your Dreams," Why Would You Want to Live," and "The Lonely 1" are all lovely songs in their own respects, it's a bit punishing to have them back to back to back), but there are such dizzying moments of transcendence on this record that you can mostly forgive it for its faults.
The two focal points of the record, "Misunderstood" and "Sunken Treasure," are powerful, emotionally geared epics that set the course for the whole record- themes of loss, betrayal, and distance. The whole record throbs with an organic closeness- the songs feel like they're no more than a few inches from reach. "Far Far Away" sounds like the band's encircling you in the studio, Jeff Tweedy in front of you strumming an aching melody. "Dreamer In My Dreams" is like a racous live take (hoe-down, even?), with some frenetic violin playing and an improvised feel with Tweedy's hoarse vocal.
One could say the record throbs with pain, as well- the sonic equivalent of pain and trying to be ambivalent about it. It's the band's most intimate recorded performance, and though they will aim for and achieve higher, this will hold a special place in any fan's heart too.