I thought "A&I" was damn good when it came out. A lot of people had their negative opinions but the songs are well-written and performed. The last three songs on the record are soooo damn good together. "I Found Away" has a perfect chorus. "Do You Wanna Know" sounds like it could have been a standout track on Dan's super excellent "Hurricane Season."
I didn't get the hate.
I think a lot of people wanted it to make them feel how they felt when "...Infirmary" came out. It's not necessarily the music's failure if you can't feel that exact same way again.
I know that, if the best record I'd ever hear in my entire life came out tomorrow, it wouldn't make me feel like I felt the first time I heard "Deep South" by The Promise Ring. That doesn't mean the record is bad. It just means that record can't take me back to 10th grade building a ramp with a buddy of mine.
I think people forget music is a two-way street. It's not only the songs speaking to you, it's also how you interpret what you hear.