Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Neil Young – Mirrorball (1995)


Yikes!! What an album! As far as Neil’s ’90s grunge outings go, give me Mirror Ball over anything else. As a matter of fact, you can give me Mirror Ball over any grunge album on the Planet Earth! (OK, I’m ignorant. I need to listen to more grunge albums. And I guess Nevermind is probably better anyway.) But seriously. After giving this album four full listens, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Neil Young is one bad-ass mofo.

Before I can truly get to heart of discussing the awesomeness of Mirror Ball, I first must discuss one of its primary shortcomings. I’m pretty sure I complained in earlier Neil Young reviews that his songs have an awful tendency to repeat the same hook over and over again approximately eight billion times. Believe me, that’s more true about the songs on Mirror Ball than it was on anything. The good news is that these hooks are generally quite compelling, and they all seem to put me in a trance.

While the hypnotizing attributes of these melodies are an integral part of Mirror Ball, the true star of the album is of course the electric guitar. Considering I still get pretty violent Arc flashbacks, it took quite a lot out of me to listen another one of his grungy guitar albums. But, here, he seemed to get the sound of those guitars just right. They’re very deep and very dark, but they also don’t sound so much like the Devil’s helicopter. …I don’t know how I can praise these guitars more: Everything about them are positively awesome. I read all the time that Neil Young is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s finest electric guitar soloists. After listening to Mirror Ball, I can do nothing but agree with this assessment 100 percent. They not only sound cool, but they have their very own personalities. I know I’m listening to a good solo whenever I can imagine its personality!

My only complaint about the guitars is that some of the tracks have those overextended, distorted codas that plagued a bunch of his early ’90s albums as well as the entirety of Arc. Luckily there are only a few of them, but as you can tell in the track reviews, I complained whenever they popped up! What can I say? I quit reviewing Neil Young albums for an entire year because of those distorted codas, and hearing them again was like picking at my scabs!! (…Oooo, I’m being melodramatic!)

Oh god, I haven’t even mentioned a single song yet. Let’s start at the beginning. “Song X” is by far the most distinctive song of the album, sounding like a grungified version of a sea shanty. Without even listening to that song, I would think that was a novel concept. When you think about it, some of the grungiest people in the world are, literally, sailors! They are out there in the high seas with nothing but the sea air and their own stench. And, once you take a listen to that song, you can tell right away that it was nothing less than a stroke of genius. The guitar is rough, wind-worn and disturbed. Neil Young’s lead vocals even fit the material perfectly. Come to think of it, Young has always sounded like he was some sort of pirate! Oh and the band members joining in the chorus, singing “Heigh ho, away we go/we’re on the road to never” fit the spirit just perfectly. I could go on about that song forever. And I almost have.

Another major highlight is “I’m the Ocean,” a terribly engaging song with, I think, the coolest bass-line ever to be featured in a Neil Young album. (Excuse me if I don’t re-listen to every single song of his to make sure that statement is true.) It goes on for seven minutes repeating the same old things and, amazingly, I never grow tired of it. “Big Green Country” is a similarly awe-inspiring song with a catchy hook, incredible guitar and incredible drive!

OK, now I’m going to tell you why I’m only giving this album a 12 even though I’ve done little else than praise it with my praisiest words: It’s just so gosh-durn samey! I get a tad tired of this album by the very end… And, even in the songs I singled out as the “highlights,” they do seem a little bit like one huge blur. That’s not a particular problem if you’re really big into grunge music… You’d think of that as a bonus more than anything else. But it’s the slightest problem for me. At the same time, I think it’s pretty amazing feat that I enjoyed such a heavy guitar centered album this much. Remember, I’m a pretty big Elton John fan! …At any rate, this is a great Neil Young album, and it’s a close 13. Perhaps the most amazing thing of them all is that he was freaking 50 when he recorded this! Neil Young wasn’t going to fade away anytime soon!

May 18, 2010 - Posted by | Neil Young Mirrorball |

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