Before I begin this post, let me start by saying that I am actually a big fan of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It is probably my favorite listen in the Wilco catalog.
That being said, I wonder if this album didn't benefit critically from the controversy surrounding its release. Just in case you don't know, the album was highly anticipated as "The album which will put Wilco over the top." The documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart chronicles what happened which was, essentially, that once the completed album was delivered to the Warner's subsidiary Reprise Records, the label ultimately felt that the album was not commercially viable and refused to release it.
Eventually, the album was made available for free on the band's website and became one of the most downloaded albums ever before it was ever released. Wilco was given the option to buy the album, which they did, and were released from their contract. The band was in an enviable position: They now owned a critically acclaimed album outright with the ability to shop it to anyone they wished.
The album was picked up by Nonesuch Records (which, deliciously, was later bought by Warner Brothers. The band had bought the album from Warners and eventually sold it back for a much higher price).
But I sometimes wonder if the album isn't quite as good as some of their earlier albums, but is only now universally regarded as the seminal Wilco album only because of the controversy.
Because, when it comes down to it, the album is fairly unapproachable (especially when you compare it to an album like Summerteeth). The noise tracks that the band experimented with made the album very difficult to listen to at first (and is a style which the band appears to have abandoned on their upcoming album).
The first time I listened to the album, I could barely get through it because it was almost painful at times. In fact, the song that convinced me to give the record a second listen was "Jesus, Etc." which is by far the most approachable song on the album (and the most like recordings on their previous albums). Once you listen to it two, three or even four times, you begin to hear the nuances that make the album great, but isn't that a kind of contradictory thinking? I like music that is dense and opens itself up upon multiple listens, but shouldn't it also be listenable the first time?
Anyway, I'm sure this has been discussed (probably, you know, 3 years ago when the album came out), but I was just listening to it again and had the thought. Wondered what the internets might think.