There is much to admire about Neil Young, particularly the rejuvenated, older Young, still creating and creatin’ after his operation for an aneurysm in 2005. The music never stops pouring from this 63-year-old protest singer, who brought out four LPs between 2005 and 2007, who toured with his old compadres Crosby, Stills and Nash throughout 2006 and who is headlining this year’s Glastonbury on the Friday night.
He is fierier and funnier than ever, his latest amateur-style videos for new album Fork in the Road an unexpected joy, featuring Young lip-synching in the back of a limo dressed as a banker and him driving his beloved Lincoln Convertible, the sun bleaching the camera, a curly-coated dog behind him.
So, there is much to admire. I just wish I liked his music more. But that keening voice, those Godspell backing harmonies have never done anything other than turn up my tinnitus and make my teeth ache.
The guitar sound is always fantastic – gutsy, driving, grungy – but the drumming is truly terrible and as for the words … to call them lyrics seems to give too much formal weight. They’re more like stream-of-consciousness notes, to be licked into proper shape at a later date.
The subject of this album is – sorry, listeners – his car, the Lincvolt, a 1959 white Lincoln convertible that Young is in the process of having converted to eco-friendly fuels. “The awesome power of electricite-e-e/Stored for you on a giant battere-e-e/She runs so quiet …” he sings on “Fuel Line”, a right-on version of Jeremy Clarkson. There are a few anti-war asides and more about the credit crunch, though nothing goes any deeper than “Cough up the Bucks”‘ wondering, “Where did all the money go?/ Where did all the cash flow?/ Where did all the revenue sweep?”
Only the pretty “Light a Candle” and the title track itself go anywhere. The rest is tossed away, the sound of a massive talent revving on the spot without ever getting out of first gear.
From The Daily Telegraph
Neil Young is all set to be this summer’s answer to Leonard Cohen, the heritage rocker everyone’s talking about. As well as headlining Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight Festival and Hyde Park Calling, the Canadian legend has also hinted that his long-promised, career-spanning box set of unreleased tracks, Archives, may finally be released in June. And now to top it all, a new album.
Young’s contemporary work has been less warmly received than Bob Dylan’s, but with 2006’s Living With War, when he attacked US foreign policy, quickly followed by Chrome Dreams II, the heightened political atmosphere of late seems to have revitalised Young’s songwriting muse.
Fork in the Road, which was recorded quickly, just before Christmas, is loosely Young’s response to the global economic crisis, with frequent cross-references to climate change and America’s ailing car industry.
Given its apparently spontaneous creation, it has the fuzzy, ragged, garage-rock feel of all his best music.
There is a palpable sense of urgency throughout. Johnny Magic, Young’s first single in many years, is rollickingly upbeat, way beyond his familiar, easy-rocking comfort zone. Befitting the automotive subject matter, songs like Get Behind the Wheel superbly revamp old-school, blues-based rock-and-roll, rough and unvarnished.
Much of the time, Young, the most American of non-Americans, glories in the noble pursuit of driving. In short, he wants cars to keep being made, but with greater eco-awareness. On the closing title track, he rails against the banks: “There’s a bail?out coming, but it’s not for you,” he whines, “it’s for all those creeps hiding what they do”.
Three tracks in, Young sneers the line, “Just singing a song won’t change the world”. As a rocker of Sixties vintage, he clearly believes otherwise. The fact that the songs in question are terrific will certainly help his cause.
If Neil Young is known for one thing, it’s that he does whatever the hell he wants, and he doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about it. And yet here I am as an amateur web critic trying to tell people what I think about it! Yeah, I’m living the tough life. Here is Neil Young’s 2009 album, filled with an assortment of ballads and chuggy rockers, and it doesn’t seem to have any overarching purpose or theme or drive to it. It’s a seemingly tossed-off album that he made for no other reason than he just felt like it. Inconsequential might be a good word for it, but I don’t think that inconsequential things are necessarily bad. Life is full of inconsequential things, and I rather like it. (I guess I should mention that the lyrics largely have to do with the government, the environment, the economy… You know, the typical old man Neil Young grumbling…)
I shouldn’t insinuate that Young just haphazardly tossed this off. All things considering, he was one of the hardest working people in rock ‘n’ roll in the late ’00s with his touring, the impressive string of archival releases, and his apparent family life. So it’s pretty commendable that still found the time to make another album, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Maybe one of the ballads could have been improved a mite, but you can’t go wrong when he just wants to chug along with his guitar for a bit, which is what he does for eight of these 10 tracks.
For my money, the most enjoyable song of the lot is “Fuel Line” with its tight, menacing riff and catchy melody. It’s an extremely simple, perhaps primitive rock ‘n’ roll song, but I can’t stop myself from tapping my foot when I’m listening to it. Therefore, I declare, it is a great song. “Just Singing a Song” seems to be hinting back to Young’s early ’90s grunge days except the distorted guitar is more smoother and dreamy as opposed to gritty. If he’s going to return to the grunge music in future releases, I hope he experiments more with this sound instead of the helicopter noises. I’m ***still*** sick of those helicopters.
The album closer “Fork in the Road” is a hoot from beginning to end. He’s using a riff that I’m sure Chuck Berry used except the guitars are a lot sloppier. Although I’m not completely appreciating the other obvious ’50s throwback in this album, “Get Behind the Wheel,” which for whatever reason comes off as more generic. Although that’s a fun song as well.
The only track I don’t like is the extremely slow and plodding ballad “Off the Road.” He only uses the minimal amount of instruments to orchestrate it, and the drum beat is so slow that it starts to get on my nerves. At least Young proves that he didn’t forget how to write ballads altogether with the lovely country number “Light a Candle.” Sure, it’s also a little uneventful and it seems weak compared to the stuff he gave us on Harvest Moon, but it’s a perfectly nice song and I enjoy listening to it.
Based on what I’ve been reading about Fork in the Road from other critics, I was expecting this to suck. Perhaps I haven’t been as gushy over all his supposedly great albums like Harvest or Freedom, so it maybe it makes sense that I would gravitate toward an album full of simple rock ‘n’ roll numbers. …Well, I ended up giving it the same rating that I gave Chrome Dreams II and Prairie Wind, but those deserved 11s for their distinguished accomplishments. Fork in the Road deserves an 11, because it’s fun listening to.
From BBC Music
Old Shakey gives us a garage record in the true sense of the word. On the verge (isn’t he always?) of finally giving all those fans his huge first volume of Archives he gets sidetracked again. One suspects that he’s chuckling at the ire that’s flashing across fan messageboards. Call him perverse, but you’ll never get quite what you expect from Neil Young. So in the place of a hazy trawl through his halcyon days in Laurel Canyon, we get a stripped back, underproduced road movie of an album; all eco-ire and ornery fun.
Inspired by his long term hobby of tinkering with vintage automobiles, he and a friend decided to convert a 1959 Lincoln Continental to green fuel substitutes and then drive it across the States. In amongst the fairly uptempo, four-to-the-floor chug and dirty funk of car-related fare such as Johnny Magic (a strangely backing vocal-ed tribute to his partner in grime: Jonathan Goodwin), Get Behind The Wheel and the title track we get a few broadsides at the state of the economy (Cough Up The Bucks). Only Just Singing A Song appraoches his more pastoral side,
Much like Greendale or Living With War this is Neil just following his muse because he can and screw the critics. The results may not be pretty (one suspects that despite Prairie Wind’s gentle flow, Neil doesn’t really like to do pretty any more). There’s little of his wild fretboard explorations either. But as companion piece to greater, more focussed work like Sleeps With Angels, this rusty bit of rock buffs up quite nicely.
Of all the devastating put-downs in his arsenal (Joan Baez, you’ll remember he said, was “like a lamp”), Bob Dylan reserved his most poisonous dart for another of his contemporaries, Phil Ochs. “You’re not a folk singer,” he pronounced, damningly. “You’re a journalist.” A terrible insult in any language, certainly, but here one with genuinely crushing power. Folk songs, after all, survive for generations. Pieces of journalism can, at best, hope to survive until the following morning’s edition.
Enduring songs, political songs, songs which aren’t meant to last long at all… one would imagine that all of the above, and more have lately been on Neil Young’s mind. Recently engaged on the first installment of the career retrospective Archives set, Neil Young has lately had his attention on his past: what has been proved to be of enduring value, what’s worth editing out, and what, in fact, is best left unsaid. In every respect, Fork In The Road – a brief, bracing, at times very funny garage-rock blast – is the absolute opposite of such an enterprise.
As with its closest precedent, the brief, bracing, garage rock blast of 2006’s Living With War, what’s on offer here is not Neil Young the shy, meditative, folk singer we’ve lately heard emoting from newly released archival recordings. Instead, this is the work of a man who has – again, so soon – been moved by current events to put something down on paper. If Young’s 2009 subject matter makes him a journalist, so does his method. This is no florid essay, but rather angry editorial banged out on a tight deadline, with little regard for the niceties of technique.
The subject matter of the piece? That, though not quite as boldly signposted as in Living With War, is still announced pretty plainly. The subject is the recession, and it’s a topic Young chooses to address using one of his most consuming passions as a barometer of the situation: cars.
There are moments in the album which tackle the economy more overtly (“Cough Up The Bucks”, in which he asks, simply, “Where did all the money go?”; the highly amusing album closer “Fork In The Road”, in which Young opines in caustic, Mark E Smith style that “There’s a bailout coming/But it’s not for me…”, and tells us to “Keep on blogging/Until the power goes out…”). Elsewhere, however, the car is, undoubtedly, the star.
Track four, “Johnny Magic” sets the tone, an elegy for a time when a guy could, as in a road movie, fill a preposterously long automobile with cheap gasoline, and head out on the road (“He met destiny/In the form of a heavy metal Continental/Born to run on the proud highway…”). It’s not mourning the act of driving itself, so much as it is the death of what it used to represent.
In Young’s telling here, what formerly spoke of independence, the search for a new start, even freedom, has by 2009 become a guilty pleasure (“Then the world started running out of money…”), and even a political act. After all, does the US not now fight wars for this gasoline?
Driving and cars are everything on Fork In The Road. Sometimes, as on “Hit The Road” they’re agents of environmental pollution (“Bumper to bumper/In a giant cloud of fumes…”). Sometimes, as on “Get Behind The Wheel”, they seem to serve as what sounds like a double entendre (“She always wants to please you/No matter what shape you’re in…”). Sometimes, as on “Fuel Line”, they’re journeying, battery powered, to the future.
Over all, you wonder if it’s a supremely intelligent way to connect with a middle American audience whose No 1 pre-election priority was not solving the war but the restarting of the economy, and a country whose auto industry is in terminal crisis. Remember the guy in the CSNY film who walked out during “Let’s Impeach The President”, saying the band could “suck my dick”? Neil wants him back on board, and perhaps cars is how he thinks he’s going to speak to him.
If that person favours the smoking, ragged garage rock that comprises the bulk of Fork In The Road, then you’d have to conclude, job done. While seemingly banged down in real time, the album contains a good deal of wry muttering, plenty of fine riffs (particularly the opening “When Worlds Collide”) and some surprisingly sophisticated backing vocals. If Young’s own car graveyard is going to remain a charming rock-star’s folly rather than a painful economic metaphor, the journey (this researcher into electric cars seems to be saying) must be forwards, powered by green fuels.
Early on in the LP, the wonderful “Just Singing A Song” – a languid, classic Neil groover – had suggested that for all the good tunes, and good intentions, all this kind of rock’n’roll protest can’t do much to change the world. So where does this leave Fork In The Road? A set of enduring classics? Or simply journalism? Either way: hold the front page.