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Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Mea Culpa for Fork in the Road

As most of you know, we get comments. Lots of comments. And we also get lots of letters too. What's nice about those letters is that they're never anonymous snark and often the private revelations of the impact of Neil Young's music on the writer.

So we'd like to share a recent letter that we received regarding the whole hoopla over Fork in the Road. Here's the quick background. It all started earlier this year as the theme of Fork in the Road became apparent and some critics and fans started circulating the myth of the washed up Neil meme. This in turn became the muse has failed Neil on FITR. Which led us to conducting some quantitative research which led us to conclude that only a small but vocal minority of Neil fans fail to grasp the significance of FITR and appreciate it for what it is. Or maybe they are just astroturfing?

All of which led Neil fans to near virtual blows over their respective opinions on FITR.

Which brings us back to our letter from Charlie on coming around to FITR:
OK, I was wrong about Fork in the Road – I shouldn’t have doubted Neil. FITR has greatly exceeded my expectations. I really like this album, and it keeps getting better with each play. Over the past couple months as the new songs destined for FITR were rolled out, I posted a number of comments on Thrasher's Wheat stating that I was less than thrilled by them; in fact, I thought they were some of the weakest material Neil has done. I stand by my criticisms, particularly that a bit more word craft could have done wonders in some songs. But overall, the album overcomes those weaknesses, and manages to be the best thing he's done in quite a while.

While I was criticizing the new stuff, I was also listening quite heavily to the criminally underrated “Re-Ac-Tor”, one of my favorite Neil albums, at least when I’m in the mood. And I found myself hard pressed to reconcile my view that the new songs were weak, when I find the epic “T-Bone” so compelling. (To me, “T-Bone” is “Ordinary People #1” – a great repeating jam of life describing the average Joe who’s got enough to get by (mashed potatoes) but could use a bit more (t-bone) to live the good life.) So, in thinking about it, I realized that I was spending too much time parsing picayune details of the new songs – I needed to let them wash over me to see the bigger picture. I starting thinking (hoping) that the FITR album, collecting all these songs in one place, would somehow result in the whole being more than the sum of the parts, kind of like “Re-Ac-Tor.” Neil’s songs have never been primarily about the lyrics, and clunky lyrics can be overshadowed (or at least neutered) if the overall feel of the music is sufficiently well constructed.

I've listened to FITR in its entirety several times straight through, and that is exactly what happened. I think you and others who repeatedly voiced your approval of these songs were absolutely right. This album rocks – it hits a really great groove right from the start, and the fun never lets up. It’s got some great melodies too, something that wasn’t as apparent to me initially, to complement the raw blues chug of many songs. Unlike some of you, I needed to hear the songs all together to get it. "Cough up the bucks" is on heavy rotation in my brain, and I'm loving it. Last night, I woke up at 2 am to “Fuel Line” – that song’s got another winning hook. This is an album of grit and passion, and while not Neil's masterpiece, it's pretty damned good, and more outright fun than anything he’s done since (dare I say this) “Everybody’s Rockin’” (another unfortunately underrated gem). FITR is the best new Neil since at least “Sleeps with Angels.” Long may he run.

Happy Easter,

First, thank you Charlie for your sincere letter. Second, we're not publishing this just to say "Oh, we told you so."

We think we're doing this more in the spirit of letting the music itself inform our impressions. These days with the 'net, everything is so instantaneous that virtually nothing has a chance to age and ripen. And we've long held firm that it is only with this patience can one ever begin to fathom the complexity and intricacies of Neil's music.

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?

So thanks Charlie. We must say it takes a brave man to admit that they may have to re-evaluate their opinion.

So, do you have the courage to change your mind when you come to a fork in the road?


At 4/12/2009 10:46:00 PM, Anonymous punkdavid said...

I can pretty much echo Charlie's words in regards to FITR, except that I've only listened twice so far, and I'm only finding that it moderately exceeded my expectations.

Maybe after five listens I'll really grow to like it.


At 4/12/2009 11:29:00 PM, Blogger CCTB said...

Sleeps with angels
Mirror Ball
Broken Arrow
Year of the horse
Silver and Gold
Are you Passionate
Prairie wind
Living with War
Chrome Dreams 11
Fork in the Road

Theres my bit for the day


At 4/13/2009 12:12:00 AM, Anonymous Dave from Australia said...

Ya know, I'm kinda coming from the other side to this. I held my tongue and reserved my thoughts when these new songs started showing up. I wanted to wait and give them some time to breathe before making judgment. I really enjoyed the new songs live when I saw them in January so was confident that this new album would be at least OK.

Well, they've breathed and time has passed, and I can not listen to this album without reaching for the remote to either skip through songs (I'm looking at you Cough Up The Bucks) or turn it off completely (Johnny Magic). To me, this is Neils flattest record since the Mid 80's and signals the end of what was a rich vein of the 'record and release' style that Neil has adopted since Greendale. (Although I hope that this is just a blip and the next one rocks). I just cant connect with this one at all.

But, over the last few years we've had some really great records so a flop every now and then isnt to much to worry about. And, by the reaction to this record, one fans flop is a another fans gold. So, to those who enjoy this record I say enjoy it. Crank it up and have fum. To those who dont, simply chuck on one you like and let this one go through to the keeper. At the rate Neil is churning these out, its only a matter of time until he hits the mark with you again...

Cheers - Dave from Australia

At 4/13/2009 01:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, I just don't want to listen to songs about cars or fuel or mechanics. I will not buy this record.

At 4/13/2009 02:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Dean of Rock Critics has given FITR a four (out of five) star review in Blender. The best review to date in capturing what the album is about. As usual the Dean (like Neil) shows that less is more.

Neil Young
Fork in the Road

Release Date:
Reviewed 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.

Download “Fork in the Road,” “When Worlds Collide,” “Johnny Magic”


At 4/13/2009 03:19:00 AM, Anonymous dr dip said...

So this album... it's not as 'forked' as first thought huh!

At 4/13/2009 09:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


He signed his letter "Charlie." Sure sounds anonymous to me.

Get off your high horse about people choosing to remain anonymous. It's their right, you allow it on this board, yet you criticize people for opting to do so.

There are many good reasons for people to remain anonymous. If you don't like it, change the format of your board, rather than complaining about it incessantly.


At 4/13/2009 09:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - FITR grows on you. After about 4 listens through, my take is this:

Best song: Light a Candle - easily the best melody and probably the best lyric. Love how Neil's acoustic riff leads to Keith's steel line. This is the song I would pay attention to on this record. The imagery of "caves and caverns" is very haunting.

Fork in the Road - this one gets better with each hearing. Love the line: "Whose idea was that?"

Johnny Magic is kinda cool. The lyrics are a bit off the cuff but it chugs nicely.

When Worlds Collide has a great guitar tone - very similar to No Hidden Path in that way. This song could use an extended jam in the middle.

I think Cough up the Bucks, Sea Change, and Fuel Line are sub-par. Some of this might have been salvagable if the vocals on the higher range were better. Cough of the Bucks is a listen once and that's it.

Light a Candle is the song.

Old Black

At 4/13/2009 01:55:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...


Just to clarify. Charlie isn't anonymous. He sent me a personal email with his full name & corporate address.

No doubt about it, anon comments are valid and accepted here. We'd be the last one to take issue with anonymity. The only point being is that if folks can leave some sort of identifier with their post (like you did) than it makes it easier to address your comment. rather thansaying "hey anon @ 12:42". makes threads hard to follow and respond to.


At 4/13/2009 03:11:00 PM, Anonymous AK said...

so thrasher, where can we find all your personal information?

At 4/13/2009 03:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AK, all's Thrash is saying is that by leaving an 'identity' signature as you have done..'AK', it allows fellow blogger's to comment,respond or retort to your comments and input like everybody else that gives themselves some identity.I don't think Thrash wants the ins and outs of a monkey's arse about ourselves as I surely don't want that of him..but as he does, I and many other fellow bloggers, as it appears, are very frustrated with the 'anonymouse' sign off . In the end if Thrash starts perusing and editing, he can keep a close watch on those trolls and f*^kwits such as Dr Dip.!!

At 4/13/2009 04:30:00 PM, Anonymous dr dip said...

ooooh....You bitch anonymous!!!

At 4/13/2009 05:51:00 PM, Anonymous Kimball - Loud&Clear said...

When I listened to Greendale the first time, I had a smile overtake about 99% of my face within the first 30 seconds, that was based on the insturmentation. Once I noticed the lyrics were non standard, I had to fight my way through them and learn to live with them and eventually to love them.

That's where I learned to compartmentalize the music and the lyrics of Neil's work. LWW, this was very necessary to get some use out of the record, on the merits of the insturmentation and guitar.

When it comes to Fork, I wasn't impressed at all with the songs as they were rolled out on the previous tour. It took listening to the record to start actually HEARING the songs. This record is a plenty-pack of grungey guitar. There are places that still agitate me, especially the over gained chorus on just singin a song.

I think the first time I heard Johnny Magic was when my wife showed me the video online. I thought oh man, he's losing me. Now I love it.

My favorite song by far is Fuel Line, that guitar sounds like he's plugged into the highest power line on the pole, it kicks my s, bigtime.

Bottom line, the record took some listens to break through my preconceived notions and to establish its stance on its own merits. Its standing strong now. Especially when I got to the point that I could listen to the whole record all the way through and enjoy each song.

At 4/13/2009 06:08:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Hi AK,

You can contact me using the email address that is always posted in the right sidebar.

ps - Your post yesterday Happy Fucking Easter on your blog Soothing Soul Suckers was ummm... really ummm ... nevermind

At 4/13/2009 06:13:00 PM, Anonymous Kimball Loud and Clear said...

Wow, I came back to post a follow on thought, and the fight has engulfed my post above and below. You bastages are harshing my neil mellow.

So I need Get Around, its the most lasting gem to come off Fork, but its not on the record.... Hope there's a good clean version on the Get Around Blu-ray.

Ok, gouge each others eyes out and act like dick noses. or be the change that the world needs from the inside out, and neil's people are the inside. start here, start now.

At 4/13/2009 06:17:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

Well, at this point I can't comment on the album, as I haven't heard it yet (my dollars are otherwise spoken for right now). But you know me, I'll have to listen to it "over and over and over again" anyway to find out what I really think. But it sure is encouraging to hear people talking in terms of giving the album a chance by listening to it through enough times to get a feel for it. In the end not everyone liked it, which is fine, but more than a few were rewarded by their patience and open mindedness. Surprise, surprise.

Greg M

At 4/13/2009 08:43:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Sorry Kimball Loud and Clear.

Know what you mean. Didn't mean to post that link for the shock value.

Just wonder why someone who writes like that and listens to that kind of "satan/death music" would be interested in Neil's music in the slightest.

If anyone can explain, we're all ears.

At 4/14/2009 05:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Compare this album to Dylan's new album. Dylan's album sounds like nothing else in his entire ouevre, whereas Neil is simply treading water.


At 4/14/2009 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous pieceofcrap said...

Ok, here's my 5 cents' worth: FITR has just one slight problem: apart from the gloriously funny/crazy title song (it MUST be a classic) there's other stuff on the album.
Let me try to explain, if you're interested, of course.
Neil sometimes has a great idea, but then goes on to build a jugggernaut around it that doesn't always holds up too well... That's the case here, I think. Apart from FITR itself, the songs just don't convince or sweep you up at all.
"Cough Up the Bucks" for starters is dreadful, even as a riff (yeah, even compared to "T-Bone", which at least was prehistoric funny). It may be a nice idea for Neil to really get pissed at Wall Street and throw'em some hard core industrial swing in the face - but good music this ain't. That goes for "When Worlds Collide" as well. As far as "Singin' a Song" goes - well, what can you say about the umptieth spin off of Hurricane.... "Light A Candle", come on, that's pure schmaltz. Leave it to Beyoncé.
Then, finally on to the apotheosis of the album: FITR itself.
Now, that's a hilarious GREAT NY-song - it's funny, wild, ironic, weird, serious, berserk. Made me think of something.. It's as if the sleazy host from Tonight's the Night's Miami Beach("Everything is cheaper than it looks", "Can I have a little light on that palm, David?")has finally gotten rid of Neil and had started making music himself. And wow, he pulls it off brilliantly.
Only one regret about this song: that it doesn't go on for the full 45 minutes, to fill the album!

At 4/15/2009 06:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the car songs on Re-Ac-Tor are better IMHO.

Mr. Beagle

At 4/15/2009 07:56:00 PM, Anonymous pete said...

FITR; great record. I gotta take issue with the "Cough up the bucks" dissing on here...Its the most unique and diverse song musically...and pretty heavy lyrically. I admit, I thought it was pretty silly upon first listen but it definitley grew on me.

This record makes you think, if you want, but the bottom line is it ROCKS! Roll down the windows, crank the stereo and drive.

One criticism though - "When Worlds Collide" - ouch..what a mess. Peace.

At 4/16/2009 04:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, this maybe not a brilliant album, but a very nice one. Some melodys come back in my head over and over again. And yes, Re-ac-tor is one of my favorites too. "Operastar" f.i. mean. dirty and with a fine hook. OK Neil, go one like this!

Hans from Holland

At 4/17/2009 08:27:00 AM, Anonymous dr dip said...

Hey Thrash, as I was perusing this thread,I decided to do a little "link surfing" and went to your link 'change your mind' from an article you wrote from '94.

I've just realised how much of a dedicated 'rusty' you are!

Amazing stats and trivia..If Neil had to go to court on some archivial descrepency I'm sure he'd gladly have you as his defence lawyer!

Keep harvesting Thrash!

Luv Dip

At 4/28/2009 04:29:00 PM, Anonymous AK said...

" Just wonder why someone who writes like that and listens to that kind of "satan/death music" would be interested in Neil's music in the slightest.

If anyone can explain, we're all ears."

just saw this thrasher, sorry for the late response. it's simple. it's for the same reason the guy who made "heart of gold" made "arc". if anyone should understand the connection it should be a neil fan.

At 7/12/2009 10:09:00 PM, Blogger D.I. Kertis said...

Anon, 4/14/09 (this may be coming a bit late)--

Together Through Life is interesting, I agree, and has little in common with Dylan's previous work musically, but what exactly is the point of comparing the two albums? In terms of both musical styling and lyrical content, they're apples and oranges. And FITR may be nothing new from Neil stylistically, but neither were Cortez or Like a Hurricane--we'd already had several elongated, guitar-driven Crazy Horse jams by then-- and what's the consensus on them? Something doesn't have to be completely new to be great, or, as I feel is the case here, merely good. (Of course, "good" and "bad" are purely subjective points-of-view. I'm just pointing out that innovation, whether personal or at a greater level, can't possibly be the only measure of quality, any way you cut it.)


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