Fork in the Road Reviews: Got A Potbelly
Recently, we wrote about how the initial consensus around Neil Young's Greendale and Living With War was that they were flawed and misguided. Our opinion was that Fork in the Road seemed to be falling right into the same mindset. But we maintain that the three works together actually constitute a cohesive trilogy that may just validate Neil's early 21st century work.
There's an intriguing arc between the three albums. With Greendale , Neil sounds the alarm that something has gone terribly wrong on a number of fronts. Living With War was a direct confrontation of the need for a call to action. Fork in the Road -- the 3rd installment of the trilogy -- reveals Neil coming to grips with the fact that first you recognize a problem, then you call out the need to address it, and finally you do something about it.
Because just singing a song won't change the world. You need to light a candle. And then you get behind the wheel and hit the road.
Many have written off Fork in the Road as a silly album about cars. But we think that some folks just don't get it. Or they just haven't come around as of yet like some others.
Like New York Daily News' Jim Farber and his woefully misguided review "Young's car concept album is a 'Road' to nowhere":
There's just one thing worse than a concept album, and that's a topical concept album. Unfortunately, Neil Young stumbled across both those tripwires on his latest CD, "Fork in the Road."
It's a 10-track disk of car songs, with every cut dedicated to engines, motion and chrome.
Umm, Jim did you actually listen to the CD? Because songs like "Light a Candle",
If these observations sound about as fresh as last night's episode of the Keith Olbermann show, wait till you hear the music. It leans on rote blues riffs, harking back to Young's ultra-dreary, CD salute to the genre, "This Note's for You."
"This Note's for You"'s title track -- as we recall -- was an indictment of the music industry's infatuation with music videos as the future and corporate sponsorship of concert tours. And we thought "Married Man" and "Sunny Inside", for example, were pretty optimistic. Did you listen to that album also before writing that comment?
Many riffs sound like they fell off a truck on the way to a ZZ Top album. A few more of the star's trademark stinging leads might have helped but he's surprisingly stingy with them. Worse, his band's beats plod drearily, even by Young's bottom-heavy standards.
They're probably meant to imply a sense of family, as they did on another of his woeful, recent concept CDs, 2003's "Greendale." But the result sounds like something straight out of community theater.
Uh-oh. Don't get us started with putting down our beloved Greendale .
Like Young's ghastly "Living With War" CD in 2006, his latest attempts to be topical just end up seeming either exploitive [sic] or like outbusts [sic] from a coot. But the larger problem is more basic: Young's need to keep putting out so much work.
Proofread much Jim?
"Fork" marks his eighth album in nine years, and the toil shows. Sadly, his track record in this decade has come to recall the star's output from the '80s, when his Geffen albums lapsed from lax to perverse.
Ah, yes. The old tried and true trope of the lost Geffen years.
Young managed to come back strong in the '90s, which may augur well for the next decade. But in the meantime, is it too much to ask Young to lay back long enough for his bankrupt muse to stage its own economic recovery?
And the failure of Neil's muse myth perpetuates itself again due to the shoddy criticism of Farber similar to that of Village Voice's Rob Harvilla and U.K. Guardian's Sean Michaels who we've smacked down previously.
We contacted Farber for this article but he did not respond. But feel free to give him a try. He can be reached at: email@example.com
But how about some other perspectives on Fork in the Road?
From Yale Daily News - Off the road again by Raphael Shapiro:
Sound mixing, however, is not this project’s major problem. Where “Fork in the Road” ultimately misses is in its dogged determination to make a point. Gone are Young’s poetic lyrics, replaced by expository lines with a smattering of descriptive similes that leave something to be desired. One example will illustrate the point: “Fuel Line” is a song written to an electric car. Seriously. In the second verse come the lyrics, “The awesome power of electricity / Stored for you in a giant battery / She runs so quiet, she’s just like a ghost.” Meanwhile, the backup singers chime in, “Keep running that fuel line, keep running that ol’ fuel line.” The mood feels absurd, a tone Young was probably not aiming for.
In “Cough Up The Bucks,” a commentary on the price of gas [say what??? how about the bank bailout?], Young sings, “Where did all the money go? Where did all the cash flow? Where did all the revenue stream?” And throughout, the backup vocalists return chanting over and over, like a mantra of modern society, “Cough up the bucks, cough up the bucks.” It’s like none of his producers told Young it should have been a comedy.
From JamBase By Dean Smith:
Fork in the Road isn't one of his vintage works, or even a seminal one. His 40th album feels dashed off and less polished than Living with War, but it's good clean fun. The videos will make you laugh out loud and the guitars will keep you coming back for more. Still cranking it out with a fiery glint in his eye, Young is enjoying every minute.
From CANOE -- JAM! Music - Album Review: FORK IN THE ROAD By DARRYL STERDAN:
90% of all great rock songs are about cars, money, sex or some combination thereof. And thankfully, this disc does not consist of odes to alternative propulsion technologies, drivetrain torque ratios or the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells. Nor is it a Living With War-style soapbox derby. So you can enjoy these 10 raw-boned, ramshackle blues-rockers without feeling guilty for not biking to work.
Having said all that -- and much as we admire and respect Young's restless commitment to following his muse, striking while the iron is hot and bashing out albums that are the musical equivalent of blog entries -- it would be nice if he made a disc that sounded like it took longer to write and record than it does to play.
From The Daily Athenaeum: Album Spotlight: neil Young attempts relevance with 'fork in the Road,' disappoints by Marc Basham:
But if one would have to pick a quintessential track from “Fork in the Road,” look no further than “Just Singing a Song.”
Bringing up memories of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” “Just Singing Song” contains the most truthful message of any other track on this album: “Just singing a song don’t change the world.”
Regrettably, Young did not listen to his own message from this song.
Overall, I can see people describing “Fork in the Road” as just another oblivious concept album in Young’s long lineage.
However, I still cannot get past the sheer amount of smugness contained in this album.
I guess, in the end, Ronnie Van Zant was right in “Sweet Home Alabama” when he said: “I hope Neil Young will remember a southern man don’t need him ’round.”
In the case of “Fork in the Road,” the same sense of not needing Neil Young also applies.
From On Deaf Ears:
Throughout, Neil Young sounds like he’s having more fun than he’s had in years. He’s obviously excited to be joining the great American traditions of entrepreneurship and innovation while simultaneously engaging in his passion for classic cars. His enthusiasm, placed on wax for us on Fork in the Road, lights a candle in the darkness of the tough times we are living in. Despite its (often humorous) crankiness, it’s a joy.
From The Daily News MUSIC REVIEW By Scott Bauer:
Give Neil Young credit for following his muse.
Throughout his storied career, Young has never been one to shy away from the idiosyncratic project, whether his fans want to come along or not.
On his latest, the hastily written and recorded 'Fork in the Road,' Young takes on the hot topics of the day. He sings about electric cars, green energy, bailouts and even his own career.
'I'm a big rock star,' Young drolly sings over a thumping blues beat on the title track, the best song on the record. 'My sales have tanked, but I still got you. Thanks!'
It's a very funny song. How could it not be when Young starts it off by talking about his pot belly?
Funny, yes. But just because it's funny doesn't mean it can stand alongside Young's best work, or that it will stand the test of time. That's the problem with topical records like 'Fork in the Road.'"
From SkyHiDailyNews.com By Adam Kandle:
True to its subject, “Fork In The Road” is at times a messy affair that may be in need of repair but when it’s running right will remind you of the joy you felt getting behind the wheel for the first time.
From LiveDaily Album Review by Tjames Madison:
Neil Young has peddled road-as-metaphor-for-life tunes for as long as he's been recording albums, so it's not surprising he would devote his latest studio set to, essentially, one long, shaggy dog tale about an environmentally friendly Lincoln Continental.
Nor, given Young's relatively recent brush with mortality (his brain aneurysm in 2005 and subsequent complications, which everyone seemed to promptly forget about once Neil slipped right back into his typically busy work mode), should anyone be terribly surprised that the rock legend would produce something so footloose and carefree at age 63, because let's face it: he's right where he wants to be and owes nothing to nobody at this point.
No, the mildly unexpected news about 'Fork in the Road' is how perfectly it fits into Young's entire back catalog; sonically, it slots neatly and unapologetically into his mid-'70s oeuvre, comfortably existing in the Neiliverse somewhere between 'Zuma' and 'Rust Never Sleeps.' It's a Big Guitar album, and veers sharply away from Young's most recent retreats to 'Harvest' territory.
The guitars are huge and sweeping on the crunching trio that opens the album, "When World's Collide," "Fuel Line" and the pointed "Just Singing a Song," which gently rebukes entertainers who opt for benefit recordings and live appearances over a commitment to genuine change. "You can sing about change while making your own," Young offers. "Just singing a song won't change the world."
Thematically, Young remains a storyteller almost without peer. The leitmotif weaving through most of the songs on "Fork on the Road" is Neil's recent experience when he and a friend converted a 1959 Lincoln Continental to run on biofuels and then drove the car--dubbed the Lincovolt--across the US on sort of a combination road trip/goodwill tour.
From Blender by Robert Christgau:
Ugh—a concept album about fuel-efficient automobiles.
Showcasing, it figures, an old hippie’s customary disregard for pop niceties, as his rough-hewn band bashes away without even the chorus of 100 that set apart the music on 2006’s Living With War. The trick is that unless you assume “the awesome power of electricity/Stored for you in a giant battery” is too ridiculous for words, the material verges on the extraordinary. The man who wrote “Long May You Run” for his 1946 Buick knows how to milk a car song, and so he sings about freedom and getting under her hood, sure, but also about endless traffic jams, the credit crunch, even bailouts. Pragmatically exploiting his sure tune sense, his saving falsetto and a command of the political facts well exceeding that of Living With War, he’s turned out the first great protest album of the new dispensation.
Unfortunately, we’ll need more.
From The UNCUT Album Review: Neil Young - Fork In The Road by JOHN ROBINSON:
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.
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.
From Washington Times: Young jams to bailout woes by Adam Mazmanian:
Most of the 10 songs on 'Fork in the Road' take a gritty, sardonic look at the economic landscape and its effects. There's a kind of inchoate populism here — an us-versus-them motif that amalgamates Bruce Springsteen's more fully formed post-industrial critique and Bachman-Turner Overdrive's white-collar blues, 'Taking Care of Business.'
From The Harvard Crimson By SUSIE Y. KIM:
If Neil Young wants to release a concept album about eco-friendly cars, he sure as hell will — and over 40 years of artistic excellence means that people will listen, regardless of its merits. “Fork in the Road,” although appreciable for its grungy, hard-rocking feel and often hilarious, sometimes thought provoking lyrics, leaves the listener feeling unnoticed as Young continues to write songs that seem to serve the sole purpose of amusing himself for the moment.
From 925 JACK FM - Toronto's Best Rock Variety - Andrews Rock Blog:
I love to be wrong sometimes. Usually it’s when it comes to music. I love to have low expectations on something and then have it exceed those expectations. That’s exactly what Neil Young has done for me with his new album Fork In The Road. When it was announced that Neil was going to postpone his massive Archives boxset because he had a new album about his car he wanted to release, I was super ticked off. I haven’t been impressed with the last few Neil albums, and I was so looking forward to the box set, I figured there was no way I was going to enjoy Fork In The Road. Well, I was wrong.
From AWmusic by Carmen:
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.
From NewsOK.com by Gene Triplett:
Neil goes green and mean on his new album, inspirationally driven by his latest socially-conscious crusade to reduce the demand for petro-fuels, clean up the air and eliminate wars over fuel supplies. He’s been walking the walk, partnering with automotive whiz Jonathan Goodwin of Wichita, Kan., to convert Young’s 1959 Lincoln into the 'Linc Volt,” an electric hybrid ride with an onboard hydrogen generator that can rack up 100 mpg on gasoline, compressed natural gas or biofuels. He sings all about it on such plugged-in powerhouses as 'Fuel Line” ('She’s not the car that she used to be / She wants to take you and she wants to take me / Into the future that’s her destiny”) and 'Johnny Magic” ('Wichita-a-a-a, the home of the heavy metal Continental”).
From The Badger Herald by Jason Smathers:
Oh, but don’t worry, because there’s a second-wind with “Hit the Road,” which actually coasts on a muscle car groove and works better than “Get Behind the Wheel” and “Hit the Road” by combining horsepower worship with tangential hint of the fuel concerns mentioned earlier on. Great, Neil. So why didn’t you just record that song and call it a day? Why did you need to record these other three songs and then make a single like the three-chord guitar write-off “Johnny Magic?” Especially when it’s “Mr. Chevrolet Goes to Washington” storyline is so sloppily unfurled that it makes me want to punch anyone from Wichita who even mentions the word “ethanol.”
This album is worth a listen if you can survive a drive in the ditch for about 18 minutes. Songs like the title track save it from obscurity by honing that everyman anger at bailouts and American excess. But when a great, new classic from Young like “Just Singing a Song” admits that “Just singing a song won’t change the world,” why does he spend so much time trying to do just that?"
From ReadJunk.com by Paul Byrne:
Any Neil Young release should be greeted with open arms and “Fork In The Road” is no exception. Yes, it is somewhat of a “concept” album. Any fan of Neil Young’s will know of his real love of automobiles, you just have to visit www.neilyoung.com to get an idea! So its not that much of a surprise that this release has come along. Songs devoted to cars, being on the road, going places - you get the idea.
From Vancouver Sun - "Tough times have been good for Neil Young" by Peter Simpson:
"Neil Young is 63 years old, and still a powerful rock 'n' roll force. Greying, with old black Gibson in hand, he's all business.
He's like an old tractor, from back when things were built to last, still resolutely plowing through the furrows of rock music. Resolute, but not resigned.
Being pissed off has long been Young's muse.
His songs sometimes sputter beneath the weight of his rhetoric - Shock and Awe and Let's Impeach the President are recent examples - and sometimes they soar, as in Southern Man or Rockin' in the Free World.
The songs on Fork in the Road hold up under lyrically ungainly phrases such as 'domestic green fuel,' and come together as Young's strongest rock album since 1995's Mirror Ball."
From Bloomberg.com - "Neil Young Lashes Bankers, Carmakers, Bailouts on Rushed New CD by Douglas Lytle:
Neil Young, who has confounded fans for years by buzzing like a hummingbird from one musical style to another, is at it again in “Fork in the Road,” a series of mostly hard-rock songs inspired by his attempts to retool a 1959 Lincoln Continental to run on alternative energy.
The record, which is released today, features snarling guitars, generous references to said car and travels across the U.S. It is also the latest entry into the “let’s hang the bankers” series that has bumped anti-Iraq records off the shelves. Move over John Rich’s song “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” Neil’s going to have his say now.
I’m probably not the first to make this expression up, but this can be best described as “rant n’ roll,” something Young has been pursuing in recent records such as “Greendale,” “Let’s Impeach the President” and the accompanying film “CSNY Deja Vu,” which chronicled Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s tour of the U.S. during the height of the Iraq war.
“Greendale” and “Impeach” were generally not worth listening to more than twice, and “Fork in the Road” is more of the same, mostly because it feels so unfocused and bitchy, moving from one target to another with breathless haste. One minute Young sounds like Naomi Klein, the next he’s Al Gore.
Young recorded this record quickly during a tour of the U.S. last year. It sounds like it. The videos he’s been posting on his MySpace page look like they were dreamed up in about five minutes and shot with a cheap camera, especially “Cough up the Bucks.” Paul McCartney used to come up with ideas similarly written on the back of a Kleenex in five minutes and the result was the lackluster “Give My Regards to Broad Street.” Not a worthy club, Neil.
From Crispian's Album Reviews:
“Fork in the Road” may not be the masterpiece of its predecessor but it is a short, instantly accessible and very agreeable set of old school rock from a crazy old coot with a big ass car.
From The Buffalo News By Jeff Miers:
"The strain of car-rock that is rooted in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” hits the hardest and transcends its immediate milieu with the most ease, and it is from this loam that Neil Young has grown his new “Fork in the Road.”
It’s a loosey-goosey affair that sounds like it was recorded over the weekend at Chateau Young, with breaks for barbecue and Budweisers figured into the equation. Neil being Neil, the car metaphor — which pulled up in front of his ranch already a bit road-weary, banged-up, and badly in need of an oil change — is delivered with a twist. Young’s latest passion is the environmentally friendly automobile, and “Fork” forks over plenty of eco-based metaphor-stretching. It’s cute, even if it’s clunky.
The best Neil Young music boasts an offhand, casual, sloppy feel. The worst Neil Young music also boasts an offhand, casual, sloppy feel. “Fork” splits the difference.
It is far from his best work, but it certainly has its charms, the most obvious being the lovely grime of the man’s electric guitar playing.
From TheStar.com by Ben Rayner:
Daft? A bit. The last time Young reacted so quickly with an album-length political screed it was to call for George W. Bush's impeachment on 2006's Living With War – a record that might have sounded half-finished, but at least didn't suffer from a lack of focus. Fork in the Road, on the other hand, sounds both half-finished and decidedly under-thought; about half the tunes play like unvarnished blues-jam sessions still fumbling towards proper song structure, while the lyrics only occasionally pursue his chosen theme much further than commenting on how nice and quiet the open road can be when you're behind the wheel of an electric car.
It's fun, though, especially if you're into Loud Neil. And who isn't?
From 411mania.com by Jesse Coy:
All you need to do is take a gander at some of those song titles to realize that something is going on here. “Road, road, road… wheel and fuel.” There are some obvious dots just begging to be connected. Not paying any attention to the back story on this one until after I listened to it, I let it play for what it was. The end result is a very relevant look at the current U.S. situation, with a half nostalgic, half progressive and hopeful look to driving, the road, and automobiles. This is coupled with a fair dose of government cynicism.
From A.V. Club by Noel Murray:
It’s a testament to Neil Young’s talent—or maybe just his indelible personal style—that even his most far-fetched ideas are often reasonably entertaining. A rock-opera/lo-fi movie about environmental activism? An R&B homage with Booker T. & The M.G.s? A set of Iraq-specific anti-war anthems? None of these recent Young flights of fancy have exactly been winners, but neither are they completely devoid of the occasional catchy chorus, scorching guitar solo, or flash of oddball affability.
So it goes with Fork In The Road, a 10-song set that Young threw together to promote his interest in alternative automobile technology. The concept drives the record to an absurd degree. There are songs here about how “just singing a song won’t change the world,” but how it’s better to “light a candle” than curse the darkness, so Young is urging the powers that be to “cough up the bucks” to design environmentally friendly cars, because we’re at a “fork in the road.” This album is like a PowerPoint presentation at a local school board, set to cranked-up guitars and a shaky voice.
From musicOMH by Scott Sinclair:
The question as to whether the songs are any good is quite tough to answer. Come on, it's Neil Young. He's a legend. That falsetto tenor is present and correct, sounding as beautifully eerie as ever. Musically speaking, there are some pretty great tunes, even though the tone of this album is angry and strident, led by punchy guitars. He even goes completely Beastie Boys on Cough Up The Bucks, verging on rap during the chorus.
From Jambands.com by Brian Robbins:
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.”
From The Other Paper BY JOHN PETRIC
Why do critics hate this?
Goodness gracious, I wasn’t aware until after I’d first heard it that Neil Young’s new album, Fork in the Road, was so, uh, controversial with certain media-types around the world who’ve given it some serious thumbing down.
Ah, silly rock critics—never trust your opinion to one of ’em. But then again, what am I telling you for? You love me because you hate me. Fair enough.
The new Neil Young record is, at times, pretty damn good. It’s themed on his electric-car project, namely turning an ancient Lincoln Continental into a non-fossil-fuel-burning moving mobile, which apparently he has. It’s his cause.
Those big, lumbering dinosaur chords, the limpid melody walking through a hauntingly gorgeous minor key of the kind Neil specializes in—I am in love with this song.
I don’t give a flying fire truck what other people think. This album may end up a minor Neil classic along the lines of Tonight’s the Night. Long may he run, on electricity, off-shore oil or his own goddam gumption.
Damn the critics, full steam ahead!
But does it matter what the critics think? Apparently not, as Fork in the Road has been bouncing around the Amazon Top 10 list for the past week.
Neil Young News: A Mea Culpa for Fork in the Road: "Lastly, we think that it's no mere coincidence that the current tour in Canada contains at least 4 songs from Tonight's The Night, as well as, 'Change Your Mind'. Given the critical reception to Tonight's The Night, maybe Neil is having a sense of deja vu all over again?"
Lastly -- as we mentioned in our previous post on FITR mea culpas -- we think that it's no mere coincidence that the current tour in Canada contains at least 4 songs from Tonight's The Night, as well as, "Change Your Mind". Given the critical reception to Tonight's The Night, maybe Neil is having a sense of deja vu all over again?
An the really last thought is that it's seems rather odd that not one single review mentions the DVD videos. Hello?! I mean, the live "Day in A Life" cover performance alone practically makes the whole thing worthwhile.
More on fan reaction to "Fork In the Road", A Mea Culpa for Fork in the Road, Yet Another Re-Appraisal of Fork in the Road, Comment of the Moment: Yet Another Re-Appraisal of Fork in the Road.
Thanks neilyoung.org for the links!