Somewhere inside Mike McCready, there’s a Tom Petty album just waiting to get out. Between “Last Soldier” and “Down”, two Riot Act-era heartland rock tunes, there’s enough promise and potential for the band to go down that dusty road if they so desired. Though Mike intended “Down” to be much more aggressive than it became, the relaxed jangle and twang of the song sound completely natural, making it both looser and more confident than almost anything else produced in the same sessions.
The “I Am Mine” single may very well have been the last physical single I’ve purchased by any band, and I had to search fairly hard for it. I remember finding it at the giant Virgin Megastore in downtown Chicago, which means I must have had family or friends visiting me in the city, because that was the only time I had desire or reason. In some obscure corner of the store, the single racks still existed, and there it was: an off-blue digipak w/ 3 b-sides, 2 or which were non-album tracks. Oh how it brought back excited memories of finding some import that I didn’t even know existed (I still have dreams occasionally of finding some lost album that I can’t wait to listen to, always waking up before I get a chance to hear it).
I immediately liked “Down” more than any of its companions. It’s a perfectly compact little rocker, whose verses, choruses, and bridge fit together like jigsaw pieces. Vedder famously uses a Howard Zinn quote too good effect, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train”, but the politics of the song are still wonderfully vague, even self-effacing. “Cry me a river / Dried up and dammed” is a pretty loaded, playful couple of lines. “Cry me a river” is an old eye-rolling response to someone who is over-emotional about something, as “bleeding heart” is a common tag on people with liberal ideals. But in this case, a river can’t be cried because it’s been dammed, weaving an environmentalist’s concern into a play on words (dammed/damned). Plus, Vedder sings the lines with dry, upbeat humor, a call to personal/political action that is dependent on the individual, not an overwhelming collective, i.e. pick up after yourself, quit smoking, decrease your footprint, vote, people have the power, think globally act locally etc. etc. etc. Lyrically and musically, “Down” makes you want to move.