Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Neil Young “Fork In The Road” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , , .

Leading up to the release of 2006’s Living with War, Neil Young defended the anti-war, anti-Bush album by saying, “I was hoping some young person would come along and say this and sing some songs about it, but I didn’t see anybody, so I’m doing it myself.” It’s not that Neil Young needs to release any more music, but after his life threatening operation for an aneurysm in 2005 he has made it his personal business to use his platform for what he feels is just—and rightly so. Now, some three years later, Young returns for another album fueled by the unmistakable sound of his guitar, this time with topical songs directed at climate change and the credit crunch.

In a culture that is shifting ever closer to instant gratification through 140 characters or less, Young applied a relatively instantaneous release model with his music, recording the album quickly before Christmas of 2008. And while Fork in the Road seems hurried at times, it’s honestly very similar to the music released throughout Young’s career. Between 1985 and 1990 Young released seven albums, for instance, and has accumulated well over 30 solo studio releases to his credit (not to mention his work with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or live albums). At times there is a bit of a carelessness that comes with the album, the songs seemingly tossed together in no real order, meshing a strange combination of classic Young songs like “Just Singing a Song” and rigid oddities like “Cough Up The Bucks.” But had Young waited a year to release Fork in the Road, for while working out its kinks he would’ve run the risk of letting the moment pass him by (and especially after 2005, Young is right in making sure he says what he means in a timely fashion).

The bulk of the album is thematically centered around a project that has turned Young’s gas-guzzling boat of a 1959 Lincoln Continental into a 100-mile-per-gallon hybrid. His purpose in doing so is to simply publicize that it can be done—something that has sent him on a cross-country tour in support of awareness of the issue, and something that likely won’t earn Young any sponsorship consideration from the feeble auto industry. And the message is continued through his songs, though it tends to get lost through the repetitive nature of Young’s lyrics on the album. Somewhere along the way, the message from “Fuel Line” (that alternative fuels sources are, surprise, a good thing), “Get Behind The Wheel,” “Off The Road” and “Hit The Road” begin to bleed into one another and Young’s lyrics become overshadowed by his grinding guitar and aged snarl.

Though his voice doesn’t bear the same edge it once did, Young’s guitar is as sharp as ever—a point emphasized over eight of the album’s 10 tracks. Doing little to detract from his legacy, Young’s guitar is as mucky and grungy as it was in the early ‘90s—particularly so with “Johnny Magic,” a tribute to Jonathan Goodwin, the eco-mechanic that also modified Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jeep Wagoneer, converting it to support Bio-diesel. Young wails away at his guitar throughout the song, conjuring up images of the musician on stage spastically swaying as he strums to his heart’s content. When he does move away from the full-throttle sound of his electric the results are quite captivating. The two slow tracks on the record, “Off The Road” and “Light A Candle,” showcase Young’s under-appreciated poetic side. Especially moving is “Light A Candle.” Whereas earlier in Fork in the Road, Young chants “Just singing a song won’t change the world,” “Light A Candle” proposes that a song can actually serve as a beacon of hope. “Instead of cursing in the darkness/Light a candle for where were going/There’s something ahead, worth looking for.” The song parallels much of Living with War in that it acts as a reminder that, while things might be a bit messed up right now, we can build for a better future—a vital reminder at any time, let alone one as dark as this.

“Our goal is to inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st Century and delivers performance that is a reflection of the driver’s spirit. By creating this new power technology we hope to reduce the demand for petro-fuels enough to eliminate the need for war over energy supplies, thereby enhancing the security of the USA and other nations throughout the world.” So reads the vision statement behind Young and Goodwin’s LincVolt project. Even through Fork in the Road is a rushed album that suffers from muddy separation between the bulk of its songs, it furthers the goal that the duo have set out to accomplish. Buried deep inside the album is a line from “Just Singing A Song” where Young croons, “You can sing about change while you’re making your own.” Not to parallel the two, but Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Fork in the Road isn’t as much an album as it is a public journal of Young’s modern focus—he is working toward bettering the world to the best of his ability, to the degree which he knows how. And if that means releasing an album full of fuzzy rock songs that serve as a largely repetitive rallying cry, so be it. He’s still not parading around in Armani sunglasses, nor is he preaching what he fails to practice. And for that, if nothing else, he should be applauded.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]