ATN world wide exclusive: "Hey ho, away we go, we're on the road to
never/ Where life's a joy for girls and boys and only will get
better." So goes the chorus to "Song X," the triumphant anthem that
opens the Neil Young/Pearl Jam collaboration, Mirror Ball .
"Song X," with doubled background vocals from producer Brendan
O'Brien, Eddie Vedder and, naturally, Young, has the feel of a dark
drunken sea chantey. Opening with a classic distorted guitar riff that
sounds like the devil himself on the Loner's guitar, "Song X" is the
beginning of a sometimes nightmarish journey out to sea. The
soundtrack to this seafaring adventure is provided by a rowdy, group
of rock and roll pirates led by Captain Young, assisted by his mates:
Jeff Ament, bass; Stone Gossard, guitar; Mike McCready, guitar; Jack
Irons, drums; Brendan O'Brian piano and backing vocals; and Mr. Vedder
himself singing backup except on "Peace and Love," where he takes a
lead on a bridge. Just to be sure it's clear from the start what this
album is about, Young stakes out the territory with a startling guitar
solo that sounds like a brush fire igniting across a sun-dried
hillside. There's a false ending of rumbling feedback, before Young
repeats the verse "The priest was there with sandy hair, religion by
his side/ He saw his law was broken / The punishment was applied."
Mirror Ball was recorded this past January in less than a week
at Heart's Bad Animal studio in Seattle with O'Brien producing.
It was after appearing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
dinner and the Rock For Choice benefit in Washington that Young
and Pearl Jam decided to head for Seattle to mix it up in the studio.
Apparently the material was composed on the spot in the studio. The
album, expected to sell in the neighborhood of five million copies
worldwide, coast less than $50,000 to make. It sounds like a million
"Song X" is followed by "Act of Love," a Stones-ish rocker that finds
Young and Pearl Jam out-grunging anything Nirvana ever recorded, which
is no slight to Nirvana, but only a testament to how hard and raw
these guys can play. The sound is immense. Young and O'Brien have
created a dark, moody mix. Vocals, guitars, bass, and drums fight for
air. It's as if the musicians set up in a cave (or dungeon), turned
the amps up to 11, and let it rip. Young has certainly rocked hard in
the past (and Pearl Jam in concert is a force of nature), but this
song clearly stands as one of the most intense pieces of hard rock
that Neil Young has ever recorded.
"I'm the Ocean" is a long, epic piece built on a repeating hard rock
riff. The lyricswhich will be printed in the booklet that come with
the CDare buried in the mix, like on an old Stones record. The
fragments that come through"homeless heroes walk the streets of
their hometown"; "...the testimony of an expert witness...."are
always intriguing. And when young sings, "I'm the ocean, I'm the giant
undertow, I'm the ocean, I'm the giant undertow," it just stops you in
your tracks. It's a real jaw dropper.
"Big Green Country" makes one imagine the Rolling Stones playing Neil
Young songs, only with Young guesting on vocals and lead guitar. The
Pearl jam guys have learned their lessons well from the masters. They
have never played better, rocked harder, yet with such subtlety as
they rock here, backing one of their major heroes. On this song, as on
a number of others, there are musical references to older Young songs,
which reverberate, adding a sense of history and depth to the album.
Yet this is music of the moment. This is an album that was recorded,
fast, raw and dirty. Young know that capturing the magic moments when
they happen is the only way to make a great "record," and so rather
than belabor things, and turn spontaneity into soulless perfect, he
has wisely understood that what happened in that Seattle studio in
January should be preserved. Thank God for that.
"Truth Be Known" begins with the sound of an electric guitarYoung's
guitar. His playing is as unique as a fingerprint.
When it blurts from the right speaker it is as if he has entered the
room. "Saw your friend working in this hotel," he sings. "Says he used
to know you when/ In your dreams, lucky as they seem, they all turn
their back on him/ Truth be known."
It's a song, in part, about the folks that inevitably get left behind
when fame and fortune picks one out of the crowd, forever changing
things. There is beautiful slide guitar ornamenting this folk-rocker,
probably played by Mike McCready. Young's own solo is a beautiful
thing. He has always had a deceptively simple approach to soloing. I
have heard him soloboth live and on recorddozens and dozens of
times and yet each time he performs, he finds something new to say.
The side, if this were a record anyway, ends with "Downtown." "I think
I'm fucked up, let me just play the groove a minute says Young. Then a
riff as loud as the Empire State Building is tall starts up. "There's
a place called downtown where the hippies all go," Young begins. He
then describes a ballroom where the hippies "dance the Charleston," a
room "like a psychedelic dream." Over a repeating hard rock riff played
by both Young and McCready, Young eventually sings about a place where
"Jimmy's playing in the back room/ Led Zeppelin on stage/ There's a
mirror ball twirling/ And a note from Page." In fact, the lyrics,
while probably inspired by Young's appearance with the three surviving
members of Led Zeppelin at the Rock and Roll Induction dinner, makes
reference to a time in the past, when Page passed along a very
complimentary note to Young, possibly after both appeared at Live Aid.
When this song ends, leaving a listener completely drained, one
here's Young say to the band, "Well, we have that one down."
Side two opens with "What Happened Yesterday," a fragment of a song
that lasts, maybe, 30 seconds. Over pump organ played by Young, he
sings, "Can't forget what happened yesterday/ My friends say don't
look back/ I can feel it coming through/ Like an arrow/ Like a
With that it's on to "Peace and Love," a triumphant rocker. "Peace
and love/ Too young to die," Young begins. After the first verse,
Young launches into a searing solo that is echoed by a deep Duane Eddy
bass riff from one of the Pearl Jam guys. Young comes back in a bit
later with this powerful lyric: "Found love in the people/ Living in
the secret land/ Found love in the people/ Peace and love." This is the
song where Eddie Vedder sings a bridge. It is chilling when Vedder
sings, "I had it all once I gave it back, I gave it back."
"Throw Your Hatred Down" (which until just a few days ago was being
called "Throw Your Weapon Down"), is an anti-hate anthem set to
rockin' chord changes that bring to mind Young's version of Dylan's
"All Along the Watch Tower."
"Scenery" is a heavy ballad set to a melody that reminds me of the
Drifter's classic "On Broadway," that starts with an elegant solo.
"Look at the gray, at the scenery around you/ Home of the brave/ Some
times they leave you like they found you/ Some times they worship you/
Sometimes they tear your houses down." It appears to be a song about
the price one pays for fame and fortune. But as with most Young songs,
there are layers of meaning here, both in the lyrics, the way they
are sung and the emotion of the musical performances.
And then there is "Fallen Angel." Again, just the pump organ, and
Young singing these words: "Fallen angel/ Who's your savior tonight/
You're surrounded/ By these walls and neon lights/ Hungry people/
Who're like waves behind the beat/ Where's the big drum/ Where's the
feel of body heart/ Where's the big drum/ Where's the feel of body
This is an amazing album. We'll have more to say tomorrow.