Neil Young – Fork in the Road Review
Fork in the Road is Neil Young’s timely commentary on the current state of America. Undoubtedly rushed to ensure impact and relevance, Young’s work on the ten-song release feels more honest, more accessible, and definitely more fun than anything else he’s recorded in the last few years.
Who can deny America’s love affair with the open road? You know, Route 66, all that jazz? It’s a crucial thread in the fabric of the American dream, representative of an independent and pioneering spirit. Young both romanticizes and criticizes America’s love affair with the automobile, understanding that we “can never take our eyes off the road”, but that something has to change.
And perhaps that’s one reason why Young’s music remains so relevant after all these years, and why he is cited as an influence by so many of today’s rock ‘n’ rolling musicians. He still has something to say. He believes in change, and he’s still critiquing society – something the greatest of artists do.
If you’re one who favours quiet, folksy Neil, try not to be disappointed. This is loud Neil in all his glory. From the dirty guitar riff on “Hit the Road” to the balls of “Get Behind the Wheel”, Young plays and sings with an energy and passion that defy his sixty-three years. “When Worlds Collide” is a formidable jam: groovy rhythms poised against a lyrical backdrop of truth and lies. On “Fuel Line”, Young sings over fuzzy electric about “the awesome power of electricity / stored for you in a giant battery”, referencing the transformation of his 1959 Lincoln Continental from gas-guzzling boat into a more ecologically-friendly Lincvolt. “Fill ‘er up!” he calls out over a very danceable riff.
He slows things down with “Off the Road” and “Light A Candle”. On the latter, his voice sounds delicate, but demonstrates conviction: “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle for where we’re going / There’s something ahead worth looking for”. It’s a simple arrangement – at first just Young and his guitar – embellished with slide and bass, awash in country flavour. The song urges us to carry on, making a difference so that others have an example to follow, shining so that others are not left in the dark. “It’s a chance to give new meaning to everything we make,” he sighs.
“Just Singing a Song” has lyrics that challenge the messages Young and his contemporaries championed in the 60s: “Just singing a song won’t change the world”, he wails mournfully. “You can sing about change while you’re making your own.” It’s classic rock fueled by a choir, reverb and echo, scribbled guitar and plenty of cymbal.
“Cough Up the Bucks” takes a page from Beck’s Loser era with its simple, meditative and repetitive lyrics – catchy as all get out. When he asks, “Where did all the money go? Where did all the cash flow?”, he’s stealing words from the lips of the masses in this climate of financial instability.
The title track comes on strong: shades of blue, fast and gritty guitar, all powered up: “I got hope,” he sings, “I’m not done, not giving up”. He’s has and he’s not and he won’t.
Watch for Neil Young’s Archives, the most comprehensive collection of his work, essentially Young’s life in a box – which is scheduled for release on June 2, 2009.