Review Summary: Neil Young in 2009: loving the electric car, hating the economy...
Most people you’d know in their mid-sixties most likely would consider slowing down their schedule and simply taking satisfaction in what they’ve already completed in their lives. Some probably already have. But then again, Neil Young isn’t like most people. Never has been. And this is exactly where he thrives- since the late 1960s, Young remains one of the most prolific musicians of all time right to this very day. Neil’s latest offering is Fork in the Road
; a collection of songs based loosely around, more or less, one thing- his car.
Hey, where are you going"
We trust alarm bells are now ringing out in your mind, but hear this out: this is not a set of trite, “I’m In Love With My Car”-esque songs. You’ll be interested to know that Neil Young is a proud owner of a 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV- customised to run on biodiesel and electricity. Naturally, this makes the car-themed numbers significantly cooler; but a lack of diversity in terms of concept and message give Fork in the Road
a significant limp.
Backed by his Electric Band (featuring his wife Pegi and former Steel Gator, Ben Keith), Young sounds musically solid as ever. Distorted, shimmying delta blues licks work their way through nearly ever track, forcibly backed by four-on-the-floor drums and higher-range vocal harmonies. In this era of technology, it’s fantastic to hear such a gritty, raw, live sound on record; especially for an artist that is perfectly able to afford to have it polished up. “When Worlds Collide” swaggers with a rusty E minor groove, whilst “Just Singing a Song” is a vintage throwback to mid-paced, fuzzed out jams like “Hey Hey My My” or “Love and Only Love”. “Light a Candle” also proves to be a winner, if only for its radical departure from the rest of the album- light acoustic strumming, world-weary vocals and classic country slide mixed over the top.
Pairing them with the lyrics Neil has assembled for Fork, however, leaves the entire state of affairs just a little lopsided. Take some of these for example, title alone: “Fuel Line” (with the consistent chant of “fill ‘er up!”), “Get Behind the Wheel”, “Hit the Road”…you get the idea. Neil’s pretty damn proud of that car.
What’s interesting is the boasts about Young’s car (“Her engine’s runnin’ and her fuel is clean”, etc) are interspersed with comments on the current financial climate and the crisis surrounding it. Easily one of the most bizarre moments on the record is during “Cough Up the Bucks”, hearing a joyous choir (similar to Harvest
’s “Words Between The Lines of Age”) singing out “Where did all the money go"”, whilst Young spits the mantra “cough up the bucks, cough up the bucks” underneath it.
Young is not much a fan of subtlety these days – lest we forget “Let’s Impeach the President” from a few years back. Even still, a little more effort than blatantly stating the way things are without any real insight would have really lifted the lyrical game of this album, to say the least.
And so the inimitable Neil Young has once again snarled, howled and crooned his way through another record. Fork in the Road
is by no means the crown jewel in Young’s 21st century material, and it’s almost exclusively a fans-only affair. Having said that, Neil’s got enough fans to last him three lifetimes, so there’s still enough to enjoy on here…just.