This to me is the litmus test of a Sonic Youth fan. If they tell me that "Sonic Youth hasn't done anything good since the '80s" I used to ask if they'd heard Washing Machine, but now I ask if they've heard this record. It somehow just makes it better that the fuckwads at pitchfork didn't get it at all. Too bad it is also their worst selling major label album, but I guess that goes with the territory.
The title track is indeed the best Lee song ever and one of the band's definitive statements. "Nevermind" sums up the whole grunge thing lyrically without paying homage musically, which is really effective, right down to the Green River quote at the end. "Free City Rhymes" is really pretty for all it's sadness. "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" is indeed the sappiest thing Thurston's ever written, but still a good song through it - kind of like "Paper Cup Exit" is good despite the Lee beat-cheese. I do wish they'd both get over the Ginsburg infatuation, at least when they're writing lyrics, but in the end it's still only rock 'n roll, so who cares.
What stands out for me on this record, that I think really points to the O'Rourke production influence (as well as having to use new instruments after the theft, but still more the former) is how experimental it is in terms of Sonic Youth structures. Thurston talks more than singing "Psychic Hearts" type songs. He and Kim share vocals on "Renegade Princess" in an arrangement that is nothing like the other rare instances they've done that. While Thurston has gone all beat-poet wanna-be, the resident Dead-head pulls off the most epic drone-song he's ever done and doesn't once in it tell us to look up at the trees or the endless highway (or if he does it works so well, it's not noticeable, which is a real accomplishment!)