CD Review of Fork in the Road by Neil Young
Neil Young: Fork in the Road
Recommended if you like
Neil Young,
Neil Young & Crazy Horse,
Neil Young’s Living with War album
Label
Reprise
Neil Young: Fork in the Road

Reviewed by Ed Murray

T
hough the politics are a hell of a lot more subtle, Fork in the Road could be Living with War, Part II – on a number of different levels, in fact. With that 2006 release, Neil Young let loose a barrage of anti-war sentiment, much like a blog set to music, in that the ideas and their execution, of the moment and not long fussed over. Rant subordinates aesthetics. While not as consciously agit-pop, Fork in the Road takes much the same m.o., but places its heart not with the troops and their families, but in the front seat of a car.

But not just any car. This album – and accompanying videos, user-created video contest (also part of the overall Living with War campaign) and upcoming DVD documentary – centers around Young’s LincVolt project, in which his 1959 Lincoln Continental Mk IV convertible has been retooled to run entirely on alternative energy. Beyond Young’s own vehicle, the project’s main focus has been to show how viable alternative fuels can be for any car, that even gas guzzlers from the ‘50s or ‘60s can be transformed into fuel-efficient machines.

>Fork in the Road is about more than a car, though. Young uses the car as metaphor for the American Dream, a set of values like freedom, ingenuity and vision embodied in steel, leather, and chrome. Using that metaphor allows Young to expound on a whole range of issues, from a fading economy to job loss to the simple beauty of a road trip to, yes, the war. After all, the LincVolt project is as much about reducing the demand for oil-based fuels enough to eliminate the need for war over energy supplies…another Living With War connection, not to mention a thematic trend in Young’s recent work that goes back at least to Greendale, if not the best of Young’s career-long use of musical activism. On the title track alone, Young assumes the classic ranting curmudgeon stance, railing against a whole host of topics: Iraq ("They’re all still there in a fucking war / It’s no good / Who’s idea was that?"), the bailouts ("There’s a bailout coming but it’s not for me"), the dying music business ("I’m a big rock star / My sales have tanked"), mp3s ("Download this / Sounds like shit"), bloggers ("Keep on blogging ‘til the power goes out"), consumerism ("Got my new flat screen"). That flat screen, by the way, gets repossessed, leaving a whole in Young-the-codger’s wall and making him miss last week’s Raiders game. This is classic stuff.

The album has a classic Young garage-rock feel to it, with enough big, crunchy guitar sounds to satisfy even the diehard Crazy Horse fans still stinging from the apparent abandonment of Toast, a discarded 2000 effort for which no release date currently exists. It’s certainly messy enough to be a Crazy Horse album – but, again as on Living with War, its messiness is part of the appeal. Hell, the same thing was true of Elvis Costello’s seemingly dashed-off 2008 album Momofuku, his best in years. Let’s hope this is the new big rock star trend.

"It’s all about my car," Young sings on "Cough up the Bucks." True that – but the glorious rough edges and scribbled rant feel of Fork in the Road – from the music to the album’s camera phone cover to the likeable DIY videos that accompany the songs to the brevity of the whole affair (10 songs clocking in at just over 38 minutes) – can also be seen, at least in part, as a personal response to the seemingly endlessly drawn out effort of the much-anticipated, long-awaited and frequently back-burnered Archives project, currently scheduled for release on Blu-ray, DVD and CD this June.

The auto motif also allows Young some freedom to lighten up a bit and have some fun, not possible on Living with War, obviously given its more volatile subject matter. And songs like "Cough up the Bucks," "Fuel Line" and "Johnny Magic" are nothing if not fun. But Young is also making some very real, very serious points here, poignantly and perfectly summed up by "Light a Candle’s" advice: "Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle for where we’re going," he sings in the album’s lone acoustic ballad. "There’s something ahead worth looking for." Indeed.

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