Special Report: Neil Young/Pearl Jam Mirror Ball , Track By Track

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

dollars.

"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

photograph."

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

heat."

This is an amazing album. We'll have more to say tomorrow.