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.
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?