Review Summary: Being There catches a raw Tweedy and company right before their mainstream aspirations take over for a few years, and the result is a collection of unrefined, beautiful tunes worthy of the space on a double album.
“You’re back in your old neighborhood / Where the cigarettes taste so good / But you’re so misunderstood.” Those are the words that throw you into the toil of a wanna-be rock star that Being There represents. Consider this album your introduction into the frustrated genius of Jeff Tweedy. Being short on long-term goals, simple love for rock and roll, a fortune inside his head that he can’t grasp, and finally, the resentful screams of a frustrated, unappreciated songwriter, “I’d like to thank you all for nothin’ at all,” appropriately build up the opener “Misunderstood” to its climax of rock star angst and depression.
In a way this opening track is tragic, but it’s even more brilliant as Tweedy’s anxieties never stray far from the country/alternative sounds on Being There, making it Wilco’s first self-actualized album. It takes the form of a laundry list of raw, simple and individual tracks held together by the very angst that is thrown in your face at the end of “Misunderstood,” before moving on to simpler tales of struggle.
“Forget the Flowers” is a simple, banjo-backed tune that channels Tweedy’s laments through a simple longing for romance. “You’re tryin’ my patience / Try pink carnations / Red roses or yellow daffodils,” quickly becomes one of the more memorable lines as it masks the group’s desire for recognition with images of innocence.
“I Got You (At The End Of The Century)” is easily the most accessible track with the group sounding their most laid-back, just enjoying the simple gift of music. It’s one of the few instances where they let go of their anxiety and rock out, and the resulting infectiousness flourishes.
Yet it’s the self-deprecation and confusion on “Sunken Treasure,” the innocent sense of wonderment on “What’s the World Got in Store,” the bouncy resilience of “Someday Soon” that paint the picture of Wilco’s struggle to grasp rock and roll. Is it money? Is it recognition? All bases are covered here and then some.
By doing so, the album breaks down two barriers that typically condemn lengthy releases to mediocrity.
First, the fact that it is a double album means without absolutely superb sounds it cannot keep listeners amazed through its entirety. I feel bad holding this against some records, but Being There reminds me why all double LPs need to be responsible for their length, as Wilco proves maintaining a stellar sense of self for 75 minutes is possible. Second, this album does not carry any of the aesthetically deliberate cohesion that has come to define their sound since then. But the expressive elements mentioned earlier provide the cohesive elements necessary to satisfy close listeners.
But at the end of the day, there is another, even more blaring reason Being There is unlikely to be heralded by critics: It is buried at the beginning of what has become a prolific career with albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born proving more cohesive, artistic and intriguing. However, as the main segue from the country-rock of A.M. to the internet-age creativity of YHF, and with more grit than the mainstream aspirations of Summerteeth, Being There stands above their early work as an introduction to the raw emotion and songwriting ability of a superstar name in the making.