Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Neil Young 28: Mirror Ball

With the ghost of Kurt Cobain hovering, Neil spent a bit of time playing with Pearl Jam for one-offs and eventually a full-fledged tour. Mirror Ball was recorded quickly in two short spurts, and was released less than a year after Sleeps With Angels. He wanted the band to be credited on the spine but record companies got in the way. But the kids knew who the band was, and as a result it was one of his highest charting albums in a while.
“Song X” gets us rolling with a mysterious sea-chantey feel, dripping with foreboding. “Act Of Love” refers to either an abortion or a prostitute; it isn’t clear. “I’m The Ocean” shouldn’t be as good as it is, but it truly churns along like waves in a storm. Both piano (not played by Neil) and pump organ figure prominently in the mix. “Big Green Country” has a tumbling change, with a vivid portrait of a “cancer cowboy”. “Truth Be Known” is the slowest tune yet, and doesn’t really go anywhere.
“Downtown” seems to be a perversely affectionate song of praise for kids who weren’t born during the Woodstock era yet embraced the heroes of that time. Hendrix and Jimmy Page get name-checked, and it sounds almost like he’s describing a place where he’d actually like to hang out. “What Happened Yesterday” is only 45 seconds long, and uses the same melody as the bridge in “Big Green Country” but with just the organ. By the time the ambiguous “Peace And Love” starts, a lot of these songs have starts to sound too much alike. Eddie Vedder sings his own lyrics here, and John Lennon is mentioned, but why? “Throw Your Hatred Down” has that piano again, and just sounds too automatic. “Scenery” continues the vague theme with a slow, plodding change over repetitions about the land of the free and the home of the brave, and tells us the album’s almost over. “Fallen Angel” is another organ snippet, this time sung to the tune of “I’m The Ocean”.
Mirror Ball is basically a faster Crazy Horse album, and gave the world a chance to hear Pearl Jam without Eddie singing (though he did turn up all right). It’s a decent album, but something’s missing; it doesn’t excite like others of his albums with the same attitudes. The first handful of songs has promise, but that’s about it. Luckily for us, though, he was on a roll, and there was more music on the way.

Neil Young Mirror Ball (1995)—3

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