Neil Young joined Pearl Jam in the studio in Seattle in January 1995, eleven days after performing with the band at an abortion-rights benefit in Washington, D.C. The album was recorded in four days' studio time (January 26, January 27, February 7, and February 10). Young took the approach of recording the songs live in the studio. Young brought "Song X", "Act of Love", and five other songs into the studio to record for the first session in January. For the second session in February, he brought in two more songs. Young also wrote two new songs during the February recording sessions, and one song from the January sessions was re-recorded. Young said that all of the songs, with the exception of "Song X" and "Act of Love", were written in the four-day time period in which the album was recorded.
Young said he traveled to Seattle to record the record for a "challenge." He said, "Recording Mirror Ball was like audio vérité, just a snapshot of what's happening. Sometimes I didn't know who was playing. I was just conscious of this big smouldering mass of sound." Young called Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons "unbelievable." He stated that he "played his ass off on every take at every session," and added, "I can't say enough good things about him." Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was not around much for the recording sessions. Vedder explained that he was "in the midst of a pretty intense stalker problem," adding that "leaving the house wasn't the easiest thing to do." Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said that Mirror Ball "came at a time when we needed it, that Neil thought we were a band that would be good to make a record with. He probably felt sorry for us. He made it all right for us to be who we were. He's not taking his career so seriously that he can't take chances. Suddenly, our band seemed too serious."
On the lyrical content of Mirror Ball, Young said, "There's idealism and reality, the two have got to come together yet there are always major problems when they do. Maybe that's the crux of what I'm trying to say in this new album. It's also a commentary of the differences between my peace and love '60s generation and the more cynical '90s generation." "Song X" and "Act of Love" were written about abortion. "Downtown" includes references to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The reference to Led Zeppelin was partly inspired by Young's performance with the band at the 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Rolling Stone gave Mirror Ball four out of five stars. Reviewer J.D. Considine said, "Though Young is clearly the dominant partner – it's his concept, after all, his songs and his album – it's Pearl Jam who ultimately end up determining the music's shape and feel, providing a level of input and energy that goes well beyond the normal purview of a backing band. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A-. Browne said that "the album has a spontaneous, bang-it-out casualness that is, to say the least, extremely rare for a rock veteran." However, Browne criticized the album's lyrics, calling them "mostly jumbled rehashes of standard Young imagery.
"Downtown" and "Peace and Love" had accompanying music videos. "Downtown" was the most successful song from Mirror Ball on the rock charts, charting at number 6 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. "Peace and Love" also charted on the Mainstream Rock charts. In 1996, "Downtown" received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song and "Peace and Love" received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Mirror Ball received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Album in 1996.
|1995||Norwegian Albums Chart||2|
|Swedish Albums Chart||3|
|Australian Albums Chart||4|
|UK Albums Chart||4|
|US Billboard 200||5|
|Canadian Albums Chart||6|
|German Albums Chart||8|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||10|
|Austrian Albums Chart||15|
|Dutch Albums Chart||18|
|Swiss Albums Chart||24|
|1995||"Downtown"||US Mainstream Rock Tracks||6|
|Canadian Singles Chart||13|
|"Peace and Love"||US Mainstream Rock Tracks||34|