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Published: 2009/04/06
by Brian Robbins

Fork In The Road – Neil Young


There’s been enough of Neil Young’s latest album Fork In The Road leaked over the last few months to fierce wildfires of fan opinion – much of it harsh. In essence, many early reviewers have felt that Neil has either a.) doled out a slapped-together collection of songs just to see if anyone would actually buy it, or b.) lost his mind to his fixation with his LincVolt project a 1959 Lincoln Continental being converted to a 100-mpg road yacht.

I wish there was some way I could’ve avoided the daily pummeling of Fork In The Road until I had a chance to sit down with the whole album and hear it for myself, but that was pretty much impossible. Just as things would quiet down, Neil himself would release another self-made lo-fi video of one of Fork’s cuts and stir things up some more. So, even though I like to think I’m open-minded enough to give anything a fair shake and judge it on my own terms, I was prepared for a train wreck when I threw the just-arrived pre-release copy of Fork in.

So, here’s my question, folks: who’s been really listening to Neil Young for the last 40-something years? I’m not sure what anyone’s looking for in Fork In The Road, but there’s certainly no lack of passion. (The passion happens to include his LincVolt project and the state of the economy, but that’s where the man’s at. If you need something else, refer to the back catalog. For instance, if what you seek is the voice of a tortured musician and his band shitfaced in the middle of the night and mourning the loss of friends to junk, then throw on Tonight’s The Night. Neil opted to not make a career/life out of it.)

The album is dominated by rockers (a function of the road theme) from Humble Pie-like grease (“Fuel Line”) to the Time Fades Away lurch of “Hit The Road.” The fist-pumping cheer of “Johnny Magic” is tempered by the reality of “Just Singing A Song”:

Just singing a song

Won’t change the world

Neil’s faithful Old Black gets a fierce blues-based workout on “Get Behind The Wheel” while his wistful acoustic work on “Light A Candle” is woven with long-time buddy Ben Keith’s lovely pedal steel.

And then there’s the rascal that started it all when the video hit the net a couple of months ago: the title track. Over “Spirit In The Sky”-like crunched-up riffing, Neil’s character makes observations on current events and the state of things. You can choose to read the lyric sheet and mourn the complex poetry of some of his past work or you can listen to the performance as offered here.

Forgot this year

To salute the troops

They’re all still there

In a fucking war

mutters Neil. There’s a slight pause, and then he growls

It’s no good.

It’s that simple. Trimmed of all literary fat and boiled down to its essence it’s the emotion of the man telling the story. My old man used to say stuff to me that sounded deceptively simple until I got old enough to realize the importance of his few words. That’s what that moment feels like to me. Forget everything else (including Neil’s own video) and just listen.

In some comic book series, the superheroes never grow older and their spandex jumpsuits and capes fit them the same way for decades. This is real life, folks. Neil Young’s never claimed to be any more than what he was at any given moment. You can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain sang a very young Neil a long, long time ago. It’s still his song to sing but he doesn’t owe it or another “Sugar Mountain” to us, either.

Now is now Neil’s still sharing his feelings with us. Let the passion guide the muse. And to those who can’t accept that, I say, “Grow up.”

Neil did.

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