A Water-Washed Diamond

I was an avid comic book collector when I was a kid^ and my favourite line for years was a DC one which featured team-ups between two heroes, I’m pretty sure one was always Batman and the other was whoever they could be bothered drawing that week; it was usually like a buddy movie in miniature, a bit of conflict and then a big team-up and take-down of the baddie(s).  Sadly they all vanished at some point* so I only have my memories to guide me.  Sometimes there was synchronicity, especially when they would use a super villain as part of the team-up for some convoluted reason, it was a hack title and no doubt churned out in an evening but I liked it (whatever it was bloody called!) because you got to see what happened when the talents mixed.

Mirror Ball 01

Which is a damn convoluted way of introducing Neil Young & Pearl Jam Mirror Ball from 1995.  It was a mouth-watering prospect, everyone’s favourite cantankerous demigod teaming up with Seattle’s third-finest.  I own a fair chunk of Neil Young^^and the LP before this one, Sleeps With Angels left me a bit cold, but the prospect of Mirror Ball got me excited again.  Eddie Vedder played very little part apparently due to ‘stalker problems’ but the rest of the band put in a sterling shift.

Straight from the off, this LP, propelled hard by Jack Irons’ drumming, has a far more sprightly feel about it than any of Young’s work had had for a long time.  Mirror Ball has a great live, raw feel to it, I like all the bits of studio chatter at the beginning and end of the songs – always been a sucker for studio chatter, and Brendan O’Brien’s production is top notch, from the churning, seething mutant sea-shandy ‘Song X’, right through to the plaintive, broken-down ‘Fallen Angel’.  There are some great ragged epics here like, ‘I’m The Ocean’, which contains the telling line,

People my age, they don’t do the things I do
They go somewhere, while I run away with you

It’s true too, at an age where most of his contemporaries had hitched their caboose to the nostalgia gravy train, here was Neil ploughing ahead as fast as his guitar would take him.  Incidentally I do have a slight criticism here in that, faced with a pretty independent backing band he submerges his playing a touch, rightly so, and we groupies are left without our fix of those epic Young solos which stretch out seemingly to the edge of all sense and limits without losing sight of the essential melody.  It’s a controversial view and I’m a big fan of his too, but pound for pound, I prefer Neil Young’s playing to Hendrix.

Mirror Ball 02

Speaking of whom, he’s name-checked (along with Jimmy Page) on Mirror Ball‘s best track, ‘Down Town’.  A eulogy (‘an eulogy’ doesn’t sound right to me) to the hippy scene of the late 60’s, it’s a real barn-stormer too and I ended up playing it through six times in a row on my run this morning, with my portable gramophone strapped to my back – naturally; I’m just obsessed with this song at the moment.  There’s also a moment of pure poetry in it too,

Jimi’s playin’ in the back room
Led Zeppelin on stage
There’s a mirror ball twirlin’
And a note from Page
Like a water-washed diamond
In a river of sin
Goin’ down like a whirlpool
When you get sucked in

I love the image of ‘a water-washed diamond in a river of sin’ – how perfect is that?

Unfortunately, there are some weaker numbers here spoiling the overall effect a little, nothing bad but there’s a few tunes it’s difficult to remember once the next one has started.  I’d loved to have seen them on their ‘Neil Jam’ tour too.

Mirror Ball 03

When this came out I queued up at the counter with a copy of it in my hand, only to change my mind and decide to spend the money on beer for that night instead – foolish mortal.  So I lived with a taped copy of this, replaced by a digital copy years later, until August 2011when I treated myself to a completely mint condition vinyl original at a price I dare not mention where Mrs 1537 may read it.  Then what did the fickle gods of vinyl do this year? re-release it on vinyl.  How dare they? someone should give me a refund!

If you love Neil Young, you’ll love this, if you just love pearl Jam then you’ll be a 50/50 shout and if you’re missing the Neil Young receptor-gene then swerve Mirror Ball, it isn’t for you. 

238 Down.

^before I graduated onto my current graphic novel addiction and comics hadn’t graduated into being anything more than a bunch of folks in brightly-coloured full body stockings beating each other up.  Things were more innocent then.

*including all my beloved Shogun Warriors ones.

^^for the purposes of sanity I’ll always refer to him as Neil Young, rather than as Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Neil Young & The Shocking Pinks, Neil Young & The Bluenotes, or Neil Young & My Malodorous Trainers.

*not a Petula Clark cover, definitely not.  Although her ‘Downtown’ rocks too.

17 thoughts on “A Water-Washed Diamond

  1. Did this come out in 95′? I remember seeing Neil Young in August of ’93 with Soundgarden and Blind Melon opening at the World Music Theater in Chicago. For some reason I was thinking there was a possibility of Pearl Jam hitting the stage with Young that night. Might’ve been because they played “Rockin’ In The Free World” with him on something televised around that time. I don’t know. All I know is that I didn’t really care for ‘Mirror Ball’ when it came out, but I also wasn’t as big a fan of Neil Young then as I am now.

    I should probably revisit this record. I do remember “Downtown”. I think they had a video for that song. You prefer Young’s playing over Hendrix? Well, we’ll agree to disagree on that one, Mr. 1537. Songwriting? Different story. But ‘Electric Ladyland’ still hurts my brain, even 30 years after the first time I ever heard it.

    “Cortez The Killer” is another mind melter. Damn. I feel a Neil Young/Jimi Hendrix binge coming on.

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    1. That sounds like great triple bill, I envy you that very much.

      This was 95.

      I’m a big Hendrix fan too, but there’s just something I connect with when Young lets rip with his guitar – the whole of the Ragged Glory LP for example. Also he can sound heavier than Megadeth when just playing an acoustic by himself.

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      1. He can sound heavier than Megadeth when just playing acoustic by himself. I love that, and it’s so true! And I agree about his playing electrically, too. There’s an unhinged quality to his guitar solos and feedback squalls that no one else could or can emulate/achieve.

        And that concert was amazing. He played the first hour mostly just acoustic, then opened the second half with “Down By The River”. Brilliant.

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