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Monday, April 20, 2009

Yet Another Re-Appraisal of Fork in the Road

It's been about 9 months now since some the songs on what would come to be known as Fork in the Road were first debuted on the 2008 European tour.

As time went by -- oddly -- it seemed that the reaction to the new songs became more and more hostile. We simply could not understand how the new unreleased songs seemed to not even be given a chance before being consigned to Neil Young's slagheap of failures.

The attempts to defend the new songs seemed to only generate the backlash that not only did the new songs suck, but that Neil Young was washed and done. Neil's muse had failed him and he should simply release the Archives and call it a day.

All in all quite disheartening that even Neil's greatest fans for 10, 20, 30, or 40 years were throwing in the towel before an album was even released based on one-off concert performances, crappy YouTubes, and audience tapes. Even folks claiming to have come around on TRANS, Reactor, or Greendale or insert your favorite under appreciated/misunderstood Neil album of your choice here.

It got so bad in March that it was literally a battle raging on this blog that led us to a quite regrettable outburst.

In retrospect, it all seems truly bizarre now that the album is out. Here we are, on a nice spring weekend, with FITR blasting in the CD player, windows down, buzzing down the open road and it all sounds like a perfect roadtrip album to us. But that's just a us and apparently a few others.

In our Fork in the Road review last week where we laid out the case that FITR fits into a final chapter of trilogy formed by Greendale and Living With War, some other brave souls have come forward to say that they were premature in their assessment and were now also recognizing the brilliant simplicity of FITR and it's compelling message.

Like this mea culpa for Fork in the Road by Charlie:

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.

Or 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.

Or The Other Paper's review 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!

So with all this said, here is yet another re-appraisal of Fork in the Road by Anonymous (who we really feel should come out and stand up for this comment):
Firstly, I'd like to consider "Just Singing a Song" a bit more closely. Of course, one of the great things about Neil is that most of his songs really can be interpreted a number of ways, but one of the biggest mistakes a fan or listener can make is to be narrow-minded in interpretation and assessment. I hope I don't come off as taking things too seriously, but a Neil Young song is rarely about any one thing; there are multiple inspiring factors.

"Just Singing a Song" really isn't about cars as I see it-- certainly not in the same way that "Fuel Line" or " Get Behind the Wheel" are. It is about exactly what the title suggests: change, and more precisely, making it happen. With his Lincvolt project, it would seem Neil is trying to make a particular, large-scale change: make cars convenient for the environment and economy, as well as on-the-go people who really have no choice in this day and age but to use them. Hence, he brings up his car in one verse, because although it has to do with change, the car itself is not the focal point or overall theme of the song. That would be change, social and personal, and the idea that it's difficult to make it happen: just picking up a guitar and playing a song is not, in and of itself, going to make that change happen. A far more cliche way of saying it would be, "be the change you want to see."

So "Just Singing a Song" can safely be designated as not being about cars. Unless, of course, I am being too intellectual, and not simple-minded enough, in defining a "song about cars." Just because a lyric mentions a motor vehicle, this does not mean the vehicle is the focus or theme of the song. Personally, I'd think that level of lyrical analysis would be second nature to a Neil Young fan.

Lots of Neil's songs--and lots of the ones on this album--use motion as a theme, and often a metaphor for something. When Neil talked about the "Spirit Road" on his previous album, he wasn't literally talking about paved street, or going for a ride, but about an emotional journey. This is because one of the things Neil does best and most frequently is to write songs about feeling and emotion, about life-- about the human condition. Neil has a remarkable way of, through his songs, connected to people, their success, and the challenges they face daily.

In "HIt the Road", a song that some would say is about cars, Neil talks about the people in the cities make their daily commutes. He does this, it would seem, partially to draw attention to the pollution the vehicles involved in the commute cause, but he also speaks of people trying to keep up the energy and morale to keep following this routine day-in and day-out, to "stay in the groove." I am not a psychologist, but I'd say people who go to and from a workplace--or school--every day of the week should be able to relate to this one way or another.

Simply put, cars can be a component of the lyrics of a Neil Young song, but this does not constitute that they are the focus or them of the song in question. Which brings us to this album, "Fork in the Road." I like it quite a bit myself, some tracks more than others. It's said to be inspired by his Lincvolt, and indeed environmentally sound cars are the primary focus of several of the songs. There are many numbers, however, that clearly aren't "about cars" if one pays more attention than the average music critic:

The opening track, "When Worlds Collide" is a perfect example. It's one my favorites, with a melody that really grabs your attention and works well as an album opener. One may automatically infer that in "taking a trip across the USA", a car is involved--and one is likely to be correct--but the fact remains that the journey, not the transportation, is the theme of the song. It's a strong lyric, if not obvious in its meaning. There is neither time or nor space for extensive analysis here, but suffice it to say that lines like "living my days in a old jail, somehow life just goes to hell with one bad hand" provoke the mind into enough exercise.

Other songs not specifically, or largely, about cars:
"Off the Road" (again, about the feeling), "Light a Candle" (obvious), "Cough up the Bucks" (also obvious, and to be brought up again later), "Fork in the Road" (yes, it mentions a road, a rig, and a pickup truck, but are we really that myopic?)

Most of these are very good songs, particularly the absolutely excellent "Light a Candle", currently my favorite song on the album. I also like "Off the Road." It relates to the daily human condition, as I elaborated on earlier. These are the only quiet numbers on the album, and it is interesting to note that they are among the best, and perhaps not entirely coincidental in my case: I am a big fan of Neil's acoustic, so-called "mellow" side.

I mentioned "Cough up the Bucks" earlier, and indicated I'd come back to it. It's grown on me since initial listening, especially the riff before the verses.
Lyrically, it seems a bit shallow at first, until you realize Neil is making a tongue-in-cheek comment about the current state of the economy--read: bailouts--and just how self-serving some of our "civil servants" have been of late. I actually like this song and think there are worse ones on this album alone, never mind the rest of Neil's catalogue.

"Fork in the Road" also brings up the bailout as a central element: "There's a bailout coming, but it's not for you. It's for those creeps, hiding what they do." It's different from what Neil's done before, and I think it's pretty good. Some of it is pretty funny: "download this/sounds like s***/keep on blogging, till the lights go out." This what some have called talking blues, and is not the most eloquent or poetic thing Neil has ever written, but that doesn't matter as that pretty clearly wasn't the intent with this album. This isn't necessarily an example of a Neil Young song I'll come back to again and again, but it's enjoyable in context, like much of this album.

Along with "When Worlds Collide" and "Light a Candle", "Just Singing a Song" is among the best on here. Neil plays some tantalizingly brief electric guitar and I've already talked about the lyrics, which are among the finest on the album.

This about leaves the songs that are about cars. "Hit the Road" is arguable, as I have already summarized. In any event, it is the best of the remaining tracks, really connecting at a basic, almost primal, level to the human condition. I prefer to think of it as more about the environment than about cars, and also about people, which can be said of any number of Shakey's songs. The remaining songs are, for me, lesser material, which could be quite telling depending on how you interpret it.

"Get Behind the Wheel" has a fun Chuck Berry-like feeling to it, which I like. But it is bland lyrically, and probably the least interesting song on the album.

The humor of "Fuel Line" has grown on me, but it still isn't much as far as lyrics. At least it keeps up the pace as the second. I do have to emphasize that I like this track more than I did initially; I think I've gotten the humorous attitude with which Young approached the song. And to be honest, given that subject, to do a song intended to be serious, and which most people could take seriously, would probably be quite difficult.

Lastly is "Johnny Magic", a mechanic that worked on Neil's Lincoln, I hear tell. It's a good melody--among many, the album is strong musically--but lyrically uninteresting to me and seems, though it isn't a word I relish to use--nor do I often have the opportunity--in connection with Neil Young, bland. It's got that rock 'n' roll vibe to it again, and it seems to me that Neil touches on the theme of bringing about change again, from the perspective of one character. Regardless, I don't feel it stands out among the other numbers, even if the vibe is, as mentioned previously, a fun one.

So overall, this is a pretty good album. I like it more than I initially did, some tracks growing on me in ways I didn't expect. Neil has done that to me before. I won't say this album is near as great as the classics from the '70s, or even his strongest work from the '90s and past few years, such as the absolutely sublime "Chrome Dreams II", "Silver and Gold", and "Sleeps with Angels", but the extreme negative reaction to it is, I think unfounded and exaggerated to ridiculous degrees at times.

I have to laugh thinking about it: anyone who is listening with both ears should be able to tell this isn't just an album "about cars".

So, in conclusion, we thought this review summed up FITR quite nicely. From The Music Magazine by Chris Sheerin:
On the surface, Fork In The Road is an automotive-themed concept album highlighting Young’s own obsession with a project to create an alternative power supply for cars (the LincVolt project is using his own 1959 Lincoln Continental as a prototype) but it follows the blatant political objections of Living With War in a much more concise and direct way. Young has created a fairly ordinary garage rock (see what he did there?) album celebrating the world of the automobile and fused in some ironic commentary about the environmentally destructive pastime. This approach will ultimately divide fans and critics, but knowing what Young is now dedicating his life to it all makes sense. And this process has created a decent album.

Within all the greasy overall-wearing car-based metaphor is a real sense of reality; a finger firmly on the social and political pulse, like it has always been. It would be difficult to understand why Neil Young would do anything else than to comment on current times, particularly when the world is under the clouds of global economic crisis and impending threat. And there is no better muse than misery. While Springsteen has his head full of dreams, and Dylan is removing himself from the political lure, Young has his feet on solid ground, still toiling and campaigning for the common ‘middle-American’ man. The title of the album, and indeed the title track itself, represents a divided America with citizens faced with a choice of left or right…but at the same time it is the perfect analogy for convergence, as the old broken America of Bush makes way for the new historic vision of Obama. Whether Fork In The Road is remembered as a classic like After The Goldrush and Harvest is a matter of debate but it certainly is an album marking a point in history.

But, there will always be those who can not get it, and will never get it, because they can't change their minds. Sad.


At 4/20/2009 03:12:00 AM, Anonymous BOSH said...

I like Fork, but I don't think it was meant to be taken this seriously.

At 4/20/2009 04:19:00 AM, Anonymous Chris Burns said...

personally, i love it. even with all my bias as a hardcore neil fan; the album's relevenace is gonna ring even more true in the decades to come. in 20 years time, people will be saying... "neil was right." fact is, the album might be rushed and lacking musical versatility, but sometimes it's more important to make a point at the right time. neil is speaking of change before it's too late and he's acting upon his words, not just singing them. i'm not gonna pretend that musically it's one of his finest accomplishments, but as a statement it is conceptually brilliant. yes, i love it.

At 4/20/2009 04:30:00 AM, Anonymous dr dip said...

Well,the "Knives" were out for quite a while hey...and now we've got the whole "main course" on our only needed the "Fork" to savour the cuisine was always intended!

Gordon "F*&*%ken Ramsay

At 4/20/2009 07:20:00 AM, Blogger astrololee said...

Hey, Hey, My, My finally people have got their copies of FITR and actually listened to it…OMG, Gee what a smart thing to do…all those knockers proclaiming what they knew, they are just a “piece of crap” and “sound like shit” “Thrasher” when they respond to you and knock Neil for what he does do.
Hey I could go on for hours. Personally I like FITR in represents change it our lives and I greatly feel that change is definitely happening this year, more so than any other of the 53 I’ve lived so far. I think Neil feels, it too and I bet everyone out there who is honest also feels that there is definitely a fork in the road ahead, which is going to take us all into the unknown and totally out of our normal way of life. There is uncertainty coming for all of us, Hey, will I have my job tomorrow, Is all my Super getting eaten up by fees, Where is life heading for me/us in the next few years ahead.
As Bob Dylan once sang “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind” and I agree, so with all of this going on, it causes the average “Joe” to ask a few pertinent questions, even to soul seek or just plain worry like shit.
It has come to the point that we all need to change not only our way of thinking but also to get of our arses and do something relevant about the ditch the world is heading into. I know “Just singing a song cant change the world” but people can and thank you Neil for making us all aware of the obvious, like you have always done on may occasions before.
Yes FITR road has some catchy tunes and really get into your psyche, the guitar work is great and the lyrics simple enough so everyone out there can read their own interpretation into them. Go right ahead make the simple words mean something for you “There’s a Fork in the Road ahead. I don’t know which way I’m gonna turn”…. but I also know “There’s a bailout coming but it’s not for me.

At 4/20/2009 07:48:00 AM, Anonymous Paolo said...

...mmm...I like the idea of FITR, it stands in line with Neil character and so and so but...I would be lying if I say that I like the album, it simply doesn`t sound to me and comparing the pathos of TTN with this low-profile-cars&bars-mood album well...I don`t think we can do that!

keep on forkin evrybody...

At 4/20/2009 08:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you listen to anything over and over and over,that deep down in your soul you realy realy WANT TO LIKE, you will at least get used to it enough to like it a bit or think it's ok or even good.You get used to it.You desire to like it.

Truth is, FITR ,after 7-8 listens,is realy a sucky CD.
Not a big deal to me.After 43 years of giving us music and at 63 years old, if Neil can't give us what he did before, that's ok with me..... he's given us alot of great music. He's older, less creative, more settled, and has smoked alot of pot.....
but FITR realy sucks folks !

At 4/20/2009 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally like FITR and can't wait for it to come out on Blu-ray.While I'm at it though (and I know this is off topic but...).Has anyone out there received their Blu-ray copy of Archives 1 pre-view disc yet?Just wonderin'.
The Mugwump

At 4/20/2009 11:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FITR is a badass album with a real cool southern rockabilly/blues sound. Makes me think about the Motorcycle Mama sound, more humoristic also. I want to drink beer when I listen to this.
But I wander why Neil wants to appear like a fuckin has been in this album ("Got a potbelly", "My sales have tanked", "I'm a big rock star, It sounds like shit").

At 4/20/2009 11:10:00 AM, Anonymous AK said...

"But, there will always be those who can not get it, and will never get it, because they can't change their minds. Sad."

i certainly don't mind being ripped but you missed the mark with this comment thrasher.

i stated several times before the album came out that i was going to wait until i heard the album before i made any judgments. i never listened to the new songs before fitr came out. so my take was free of any preconception. i would have been happy to have been pleasantly surprised like i was with living with war. it just didn't happen.

At 4/20/2009 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Pinto (or Flounder) said...

It's funny, in retrospect, how, even though I'd been reading on the site for a long time, I initially took it for a place where critical analysis was a primary purpose and goal. Maybe because that's what Thrasher says it's for on the home page. And maybe because Thrasher's editorial stance, as evidenced by his really painstaking compilations of critical opinion, is pretty journalistically well-balanced. There's a strong pro-Neil tilt, to be sure, but it is, after all, a Neil Young web site, so what would you expect?

The comments section is a different story. It's here that the real split occurs between those who above all else revere the man and those whose primary focus is on the music. Thrasher's comments fall solidly in the first category, leading to opinions like the one that ends this column:

"But, there will always be those who can not get it, and will never get it, because they can't change their minds. Sad."

Restated this reads "It is sad that those who can't change their minds (about FITR) will never get it." What he's really saying is that Neil Young's every utterance is deserving of the utmost reverence because... well, because it's his web site and that's the way he wants it.

Those who come to the site with an honest critical approach that says maybe Neil isn't making the greatest music these days are greeted with torrents of abuse, from, at times, the host himself. (Though, to be fair, a reasonable amount of thoughtful discussion does occur amongst the rubble.)

I have no axes to grind here. Thrasher and I went back and forth a few times and agreed to a respectful (I hope, from his side) truce. I love and revere Neil's music; I am completely neutral on the question of the man himself and his personal qualities. I really don't care if he's a saint or a complete asshole. I have only ever been interested in discussing the arc of his career and possible reasons why he doesn't seem able to record songs that are as good as the ones he used to record. In the middle of a long heated exchange of opinions Thrasher explicitly agreed with this when he told me that I might have a long wait if I was expecting any more "classic" recordings from Neil.

So I continue to wonder what's happened to Neil's whatever you want to call it (and the corresponding issue of Neil's peers, Dylan, Springsteen, etc. whose career arcs seem to parallel Neil's in many ways.) To that end, the following thoughts on being a rock star in the 21st century:

Let's maybe look at Neil and his last few years from a different standpoint. As Deep Throat (the All the President's Men confidential source, not the porno movie) famously advised "Follow the money."
See, I've seen comments many times along the lines of "Well, Neil sure doesn't need the money." in justification of any number of arguments relating to his recordings, tours, charitable and public service participation, etc. My answer to that is, "How the hell do you know?" And, of course, neither do I, but if you start from the opposite perspective and ask "What if Neil does need the money?" you might end up with a different view.

Let's start the discussion with an an overview to illuminate the current state of what it might be like, economically, to be a rock star in the 21st century.

From Billboard:

This week's charts of the Top 200 show that:

The best selling album,(Rascal Flatts) sold 351,000 copies
The 10th best selling album, Lady Ga-Ga, sold 56,000
Neil Young's Fork in the Road debuted at number 19 (unknown total sales but reasonable to assume somewhat less than 30,000)


After 77 weeks, Carrie Underwood's second album has been certified for 2 million units sold
After 129 weeks Taylor Swift's first album has been certified for 3 million units sold.


In the top ten best selling albums there are zero with multi-platinum certifications.
In the 11-50th best selling albums there are four certified multi-platinum with a total of 8 million sold.
In the 51-100 best selling albums there are four multi-platinum representing 8 million sold.

In the entire top 100 there are only two albums (Taylor Swift and L'il Wayne) that have been certified for 3 million sold.

This is not an unusual week. You don't have to go back too many years to find the Top 100 studded with albums certified for 5 or 10 or 12 million units sold. And it is reasonable to assume that the other albums on those charts sold more units by far than albums in the same chart position sell today. And, while digital sales have made up some of the difference, those sales are primarily of single songs by relatively recent artists, not albums by artists like Neil Young.

So, regardless of whether or not Neil still makes bundles of bucks from sales of his back catalog, royalties, etc., the inescapable conclusion has to be that Neil's income from sales of his individual albums are way, way down from what they used to be. And human nature tells us that it is fairly difficult to make a radical change in one's standard of living once one has gotten used to a certain level of economic affluence and comfort.

If you accept the argument that Neil's income from sales is way down (and he pretty much confirms that himself with the "My sales have tanked" line), and you make a logical deduction that Neil is maybe not too interested in downsizing his lifestyle, you ask yourself what Neil might be thinking/doing to keep the bucks arriving in a satisfactory manner.
The first approach, and most clearly obvious, is to step up the pace of his touring. This has been extensively noted, not just with Neil, but with many artists of his generation. Dylan has been on tour for about a hundred years now. Neil has been touring far more extensively than at any time in his artistic career. Springsteen reforms the E-Street Band and sells Greatest Hits exclusively at Wal-Mart after his solo recordings and tours fail to produce revenue anywhere near historic levels (and, again from Billboard, his 5-Star reviewed, Super Bowl supported Working on a Dream album sits at number 88 after 11 weeks with half a million certified sales.)

For us, the fan, it is, in one sense, wonderful. We have far more opportunities to see the man in person than was ever previously the case. In another sense, though, the constant touring doesn't leave much time for the man to sit around quietly waiting for the muse to produce new inspiration. So, we get the "direct lyrics" approach of Living with War and Fork in the Road, with songs written and recorded in, seemingly, minutes. It's quite a change from the days where albums would be assembled over months and even years and when entire albums would be trashed because they weren't quite matching where Neil's head happened to be at the moment.

But a secondary effect of the current music economy is to make it increasingly unlikely that an artist wants to take the time off from touring to record a major album. If the very top selling albums from the newest, hottest artists are only going to sell a million units or two over a couple years, why invest the time and psychic energy necessary to write and record them?

From an economic standpoint it makes a lot more sense to record a whole bunch of albums and sell them to the dedicated fan base than to spend the same amount of time recording one album that will, primarily, still only sell to the same fan base.

And, this, I think, more than anything, accounts for the current pattern of Neil's career. The topical, tossed off (and inexpensively produced) album will sell a few tens of thousands before it disappears; the gradual release of archives material will do somewhat better (I don't think it's an accident that the first volume of the archives seems imminent only after the third archive recording, Canterbury, only lasted a week on the charts); and non-stop touring will fill in the revenue gaps.

And, finally, I do not in any way mean this to be critical of the artist. A man's gotta eat. Neil has absolutely nothing left to prove to anyone. I just think that looking at the economic picture might provide a different insight into how we got to where we are.

At 4/20/2009 01:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone should watch this live video from 4/11/09!!!!! amazing!!! Especially around the 5:00 mark :)

At 4/20/2009 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Chad Huculak said...

I have yet to read a compelling argument as to why Fork in the Road is a "garbage" album. How many artists that have been around and as active as Neil have the same energy/spunk that's heard on the most rockin' tracks on FITR?
Sure, artists 'mature' and release albums reflecting their new attitudes on death and the human condition (which Neil has too, obviously) but how many of those artists, Dylan, Stones, McCartney, can still kick out the jams on time to time? Very few.
Fork in the Road is the perfect roadtrip album. Think of the last album that you could play from start to finish in your car stereo as you hit the two-lane blacktop? Not every Neil Young album needs a serious angle with quotable lyrics. Isn't this why you're a Neil Young fan in the first place? Because of his eccentric attitude towards his career? Why can't we all grab ahold and hang on for the ride?
Off topic: It's been fairly quiet on the Archives front for a while. I'm sure excitement is building so when can we hear more about that rumored list of ideal Blu-Ray players?

At 4/20/2009 01:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put a fork in it. FORK is Neil's worst album to date.

For those who disagree, which album of Neil's is worse in your opinion?

At 4/20/2009 02:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah ah, Ya want some horrible Neil ?
N°1 : Landing On the Water (no way)
N°2 : Old Ways (even if)
- Trans (even if)
- Long May You Run (even if)
- Life (even if)

At 4/20/2009 04:04:00 PM, Anonymous pieceofcrap said...

Thrasher, what's happening here? Do we still have a sense of humour?
I think this whole "reappraissal" business of FITR is going way too far. Just accept the fact that there is no one way to be 'right" about Neil's output. Some true NY fans love this one, others (like me) think it's a throw-away with just a few good points (the title song). But please now, don't start to make FITR out to be a Major Accomplishment in Modern Art, like the acclaimed reappraiser seems to be doing. It's just rock n roll!
On the other hand, I might add my own Literature 101 paper on FITR: one is, after all, unconsciously reminded of the earlier phrasing one heard on a certain NY record concerning automobiles and fossile (?) fuels, to wit the stream of consciousness "Last Trip to Tulsa", in which the obviously troubled protagonist arrives at a gas station where he finds "the service men were yellow/ and the gasoline was green". Now, one feels the reference to "green" might announce Young's interest in environmental issues dealt with on FITR, while the "yellow" may be a prescient referal to the cowardice of the present oil industry and automobile manufacturers.
Think I would pass? Or maybe I'd just flunk FITR 101?

At 4/20/2009 04:47:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Hi PoC,

Great re-appraisal of Last Trip to Tulsa! Actually, aren't Wichita & Tulsa close? Maybe Neil went through Tulsa on the way to Wichita (or vice versa?)

Oh, goodness, we don't want to lose our sense of humor or take all of this too seriously.

Like I said to my dear friend Pinto (or Flounder), I've got no problem with differnces of opinion. Only the snarky these songs suck comments. Just back it up.

So by all means, love to hear your FITR 101! Comment or email.

ps - you do see how Lost in Space fits into all of this now I'm sure....

At 4/20/2009 05:02:00 PM, Anonymous AK said...

"Like I said to my dear friend Pinto (or Flounder), I've got no problem with differnces of opinion. Only the snarky these songs suck comments. Just back it up."


are you going to address the horseshit mischaracterization you linked me to or just pretend it never happened?

i'd like you to back up the "can't change their minds" charge you leveled at me. find me a single instant where i said any fitr song sucked. prior to writing my album review i made no reference to the quality of the fitr songs here or anywhere else.

At 4/20/2009 05:08:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...


Don't get so defensive. I think you're taking this too seriously.

I was ref'g comments like:
4/20/2009 07:43:00 AM

Lighten up, man.


At 4/20/2009 05:30:00 PM, Anonymous dr dip said...

Hey guys, just remember....
"He's been choppin down that palm tree for 87 years!!"

...and who's back did it land on huh?

At 4/20/2009 05:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was right to doubt Neil.
FITR has (only just) met the very low expectations I had for it.

Two songs worth keeping.

Carl S.

At 4/20/2009 05:31:00 PM, Anonymous Luckypaul said...

I like Fork in The Road.

It's the best CD/DVD I bought last week, got a lot more plays in my house and car than Fleet Foxes, Duffy, John Martyn and Mozarts string quartets put together.

Keep on Rocking Neil, see you in June.

At 4/20/2009 05:31:00 PM, Anonymous BOSH said...


Worst album to date is Are You Passionate. It's the only one I'd call truly embarrassing.

Landing On Water, Old Ways, Hawks & Doves and Long May You Run are the runners up.

At 4/20/2009 05:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My reaction to Fork is very similar to the way I've felt about everything since Weld - some of it's good, some of it's bad, much of it's in the middle.

For example I love Johnny Magic - great song about something other than 'I love you, baby'. Neil at his stormin best.

But I really don't like Cough up the Bucks and Fork in the Road. They sound too ragged to qualify for glory ( this from a Neil fan who prefers the version of Welfare Mothers on Weld to all others).

I think this kind of uneven result occurs because of how quickly Neil records. You get good results, you get bad results; you record it and you move on.

And, truth to be told, for years to me it's only really been about the live thing as far as Neil goes. The studio stuff has been an afterthought (much like another band that is near and dear, The Who)


At 4/20/2009 07:25:00 PM, Anonymous AK said...


Don't get so defensive. I think you're taking this too seriously.

I was ref'g comments like:
4/20/2009 07:43:00 AM

Lighten up, man.


you can't have it both ways thrasher. it's either ALL in good fun or, as you stated, you need to "back it up".

i'm all for good fun. but then again, i'm not the guy railing bad reviews of fitr.

At 4/20/2009 10:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite the fact your thesis is well explained and backed up by some evidence, I completely disagree with your premise - namely that its all about money ... Neil's longevity can be attributed among other things to his willingness to make artistic decisions without concern for their financial implications ... true, Elliot is a master business man, who knows how to generate revenue, but with Neil it aint about the money and nobody, not Elliot, or anyone else can change that ... its completely counterintuitive but eveyone who was in it for the money has become a has been ... only those who do it for its own sake are still thrivin' ... that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve money or enjoy it .. it just means its not driving him one iota ... By the way, I would note that the 70s was the decade when more classic music was written than any time since ... why? who knows, something in the air maybe... but everyone - Neil, Joni, Bob, The Who, ect... was hugely prolific ... let this stuff age a while, it might not become EKTIN but FITR wasn't even conceived before people tore it to shreds ...


At 4/20/2009 10:56:00 PM, Anonymous dr dip said...

Gee, I like to make an anal constructive ,serious comment here....but alas, I've had my one comment qouta for the day already!
....and I don't wanna get offside with Thrash any more than I have.

I know the length of the chain Thrash and I've got a very very sore neck with you continually pullin on it!

Luv Drip

At 4/21/2009 09:07:00 AM, Anonymous horsewifnoname said...

Plenty of Albums worse than FITR....Unplugged, LWW, both of 'em suck, RU passionate...godawful. I happen to like the Pinks and still listen to Landing on Water once in awhile....
Shit, some like it, some don't...
I'm not surprised. I think the difference in this debate that I've noticed from previous discussions of Neil's work (here, and in other forums) is that some have stated that if we like FITR, then we are psycho-phants, or whatever; and we suck just like the album their eyes...
whatever, FITR rocks and is a far superior album to LWW, Prarie Breeze, and most of Chrome Dreams II,
In my opinion, anyway.....

At 4/21/2009 11:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even an ugly baby looks cute if you look at it rnough times.

At 4/21/2009 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Pinto (or Flounder) said...

A few excerpts from Rolling Stone's review of the new Dylan album.

Sound familiar?

"It is a murky-sounding, often perplexing record. The lyrics seem dashed off in spots, like first drafts, while the performances feel like head arrangements caught on the run between Never Ending Tour dates.

.. in a surprisingly direct way,..spitting the lines like a CNN news ticker

.. a mixed bag of this decade's Dylan — impulsive, caustic, sentimental, long done with the contrived details of contemporary record-making"

At 4/21/2009 02:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horse with no name, Unplugged is a crazy ghostly live, it's one of my favorites. But Landing On the Water is a damn horrible thing.
And to Pinto, yeah, you're right. But I think the Dylans new album will be a masterpiece (listen to the 2 new songs).
And now, enjoy Fork, a cool thing for beer drinkers and hell raisers.
smell the horse

At 4/21/2009 05:41:00 PM, Anonymous D. I. Kertis said...

Hello. I am the fellow Thrasher asked to "stand up", and it is my pleasure to do so. I was quite elated to find that Thrasher had considered my anonymous Fork in the Road post to be of a quality deserving of inclusion as part of an introduction to a new thread. I stand by what I wrote of FITR in my previous comment. I should clarify that I never hated, or even really disliked it in the first place, but I've warmed to it quite a bit since I bought it on Friday, the 10th.

I feel some of the negative response to this new album of Neil's comes from the frustration and bitterness of some fans that Archives Vol. 1 was very nearly released, but postponed again, early this year, and that, inferably, it was delayed further than it might have been for the release of yet another new album. I was as disappointed as any other Neil fan when neither January 27th nor February 24th "happened", but when I caught wind of the coming of Fork in the Road, I was firm in my resolve not to allow my regrets of the Archives Debacle to encroach upon ability to enjoy this new album as much as I might. I was certainly excited at the prospect of a new album from Neil; it would be his first release of new material since October of 2007 (the excellent Chrome Dreams II). Since Neil rarely goes more than eighteen months without releasing new material, I had been wondering over the previous few months just when that next album would come.

I have to admit I had limited access to Neil's inaugural live airings of these tunes-- grainy Youtube videos recorded by fans, and the title track (and possibly one other song, though I don't remember which) when they were excerpted on Neil's official sight. So I didn't have as much preconception of what the album might be as other fans.

Fork in the Road wasn't exactly what I was expecting-- in my mysterious naivety (mysterious because I've been a fan long enough to know that no two albums ever alike), I had thought it might be something of a continuation of albums like Prairie Wind and Chrome Dreams II. Of course, it went off in a completely different direction, focusing mainly on pollution, eco-friendly cars, and bringing about change. This a fairly simple equation--if not normal--with a fairly predictable outcome:

Like most Neil Young albums, it is nothing like its predecessors, and likely to be just as incompatible with whatever album follows. 40 years in, it's amazing that you can still hear Neil doing things he's never done before. I think it's fantastic he's still going at all after such a length of time, even if each new composition isn't necessarily another Heart of Gold, After the Goldrush, or Cowgirl in the Sand. But to see him still being absolutely original--even in ways that inevitably won't appeal to everyone--is really worth the time and money it takes to acquire a new release.

Also like most albums, Fork in the Road is best--although not solely--appreciated for its uniqueness, its innovations, and its being unlike just about anything else you'll find on the market. Of course, it is also of great assistance that FITR is a well-produced, solidly rocking collection with several really superb songs. But, as Neil says, "Just singing a song won't change the world." And neither, apparently, will it change the negative perpetuated by certain members of these boards.

On that note, I sincerely hope Archives Vol. 1: 1963-1972, now scheduled for release on June 2nd, is satisfactory to all of us who have waited these many years for it--both those who have enjoyed Neil's recent albums and the purported 4% who have been listening with one earphone for the past fifteen or twenty years.

D.I. Kertis

At 4/21/2009 08:49:00 PM, Anonymous Shittyhorse said...

Guys, Fork in the Road is just another record, another "painting on the wall". While it may not be considered his best by most it is a decent record and deserving of far more credit than; "if you listen to anything over and over and you want to like it, you will" and I think with's gonna be his career as a whole that people will look at with awe and wonder long after he's dead and gone. It wont be "this album sucked and this was his best" It will be the career as a whole. Who knows...maybe it wont be untill after the man is gone that the world will realise how much this man has done...the innovations and the twists and turns...what a ride!
I think FITR shows some real has a nice groove...not in a jammy way but in a sunny day, speeding down the highway, wind in your hair kinda way. Who would a Neil Young record would ever be described that way? "Johnny Magic" is a fantastic for the ages. "Just Singing a Song" is soulful and fantastic. "Light a candle" classic Neil...hauntingly how Cortez acoustic is haunting...for those who know what I mean. Give credit where credit is due...Neil has made a good album. This talk of Neil being in it for the money and how he's had it...well that's bullshit. Neil is a businessman...that true, but "in it for the money?" there are obvious things missing here for that statement to be true. He...unlike Dylan, the Stones and EVERYONE ELSE hasn’t sold any song...ever...we all know that’s the easiest way an artist can make HUGE profit...but he doesn't...why? At 63 Neil would rather tour A LOT then sell a tune. I'm sure Cinnamon Girl could sell a lot of Jeans and Rockn'in the Freeworld would make a great Coke Ad. But he doesn’t.
Despite Thrasher's April fools joke Neil is not re-releasing TFA on CD.... probably not even on Blue Ray either...(maybe we'll get outtakes or demos of those tunes on Archives II) why not? While cd's don’t sell a lot anymore I'm sure Neil could make a few bucks on it...the press alone would make it sell a little above average. Neil would rather write and record and play NEW songs...ones he has to memorize and teach his band to play etc. Why? Neil as so many songs now...why keep writing and recording? Because the albums sell? As Pinto pointed out they don't. No I think there is another driving force behind this man.... money isn’t it... Can I name what it is? I dont know.. The muse? A fear of death? Look at Picasso..... Look at his life. A lot like Neil. If Dylan is Shakespeare than Neil is Picasso.
Fork in the Road may not be another EKTIN or On the Beach, or Tonight's The Night but that’s only because those albums have already been made and, as we all know Neil doesn't repeat himself. This is what Neil has to give right now. I, for one, am happy for it Tomorrow? Who knows...Tomorrow may never come. Which I'm sure Neil is well aware of. Remember; People hated the albums that we Neil fans now say are his best. Never count the man out... Ever. Neil Young knows what he's doing. He's happy with what he's doing and I know he still has some tricks up his sleeve.
Rock On NEIL!

At 4/21/2009 11:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When compared to other late 90's/early 2000's albums, Fork ranks highly in my estimation. Broken arrow wasn't all that good (production was pretty awful), same with Are you Passionate. And come to think of it, Sleeps with Angels didn't exactly set the world on fire either. Hey, you know what? Landing on water, Everybody's rockin' and Trans flat out sucked and that was from the early 80's. So, this whole arguement that Neil needs the money and Carry Underwood sells albums and everything else doesn't hold much water with me. Neil Young follows his muse religiously. No matter where it moves him. And you are either in for the ride or not. I don't agree with everything he does. I didn't like missing Ambulance Blues two tours ago because he wouldn't let people into the venue midway thru the song. That really pissed me off to be honest. But the end justifies the the means. And I enjoy enough of his work to stay interested. Is it his best . . . NO! But you'd have to go back to 1973 for his best and you know what . . . that was a long time ago. I wasn't even born then. I was born in 1980 when he released Hawks and Doves (another stellar effort with two good songs on it, yep that was completely different than these last three albums, that's for sure??). Can you sense the sarcasm? If anything, this blog style recording is a welcome change. I'm sick of this bullshit of everything being pro-toolsed and perfect. The guy is speaking from the heart. And sure it ain't Harvest or rust. But at least it's fucking honest and I can't say that for a lot of other shit on the radio nowadays. Cuz Fork is heard on the radio soooooo often cuz Neil did SUCH a good job of selling out. He's JUST like Carry underwood it's true. Haha, all this sarcasm is killing me inside!

At 4/23/2009 05:45:00 PM, Anonymous D. I Kertis said...

Re: the comment by Anonymous of 4/21/09--

I actually liked Sleeps with Angels quite a bit myself, and I don't really care if the rest wasn't enamored with it. What I heard when I listened to it were about a dozen great songs straight from the heart. It's one of the most passionate albums Neil has ever recorded, and one of the oddest; I appreciate both qualities myself, but mainly the former. On SWA, it was clear to me that, even if the world wasn't on fire, Neil was. Absolutely. And that's what makes it such a great album to me; the passion, the soulfulness of every song on there, and that, miraculously, after an album filled almost entirely with dark, brooding songs, the strongest impression left on the listener's mind is that of Hope. That whole album was about finding hope in darkness and it's absolutely beautiful.

Talking about Neil's controversial Geffin years, I think Trans is one of the stronger albums to come from that era. Why? Neil was experimenting, trying something new. The songs aren't Down by the River or Powderfinger all over again, but that's not what he was trying to do. He was out to experiment with a particular style, and judging by "Computer Age", "Transformer Man", "Sample and Hold", and the re-recorded "Mr. Soul", I think he did a pretty good. There's also the album closer, much more like traditional Neil, "LIke an Inca", which I think is extremely underrated, particularly the line, "Who put the bomb on the sacred alter?" I feel through and through that Trans is one of Neil's most interesting and underrated albums.

I usually go on a little Journey Through the Past of Neil's catalogue in the process of inducting a new release into my collection ,and Interestingly, I was listening to some of "Landing on Water" last night... yes, I do retain a copy of it, however odd that makes me. It's clearly far from the best thing Neil ever recorded, but truth be known, there are songs on there with potential.

People describe Landing on Water as an "'80s album", and production-wise, it certainly some of those elements: lots of synthesizers, instruments that in general sound more electronic and less organic in nature, and machine-like drums, the drums being possibly the album's biggest flaw, with respect to Steve Jordan. He's a good enough drummer, but needn't have been so prominent in the mix. Another flaw would be that "Weight of the World", one of the lesser tracks, opens up.

I'm not for a minute pretending LOW (ironic acronym) is a great album, but it is, as Neil would say, "innaresting." I was playing "People on the Street" last night and in turning over the song and the album it came from (not for the first time) I asked a relative who happened to be in the room what she thought of it. She'd never heard anything quite like it before, she said. I thought that was an interesting remark because LOW is often panned as a stereotypical 1980s recording and this relative is old enough to remember to the entirety of that decade, including what was going on in the pop music scene.

I think the reality is that LOW, like any other album in which Neil has tried to produce a particular genre, is a twisted version of "real thing", formed (or malformed, depending on how you see it) by his own eccentricities. And while the quality of the compositions may often vary, it is rare for any of these albums to be uninteresting on their own terms. The two tracks I find most memorable on LOW are those which use a children's choir: Violent SIde and Touch the Night. The latter I feel safe in calling the strongest track on the album.

The children's choir is one of the most unique things about the album and is put to its best use here: the children sound a bit like angels, or spirits hovering over the entire song but somehow just out of sight. There's a coldness; a sense of foreboding of the inevitable fate of every human to, at some point in their lives, "touch the night." It also helps that I think the melody is absolutely excellent and one of the more intense things I've ever heard from Neil Young.

Similarly, "Violent SIde" is nothing if not intense; this could have been a hit with Crazy Horse in the '70s, describing a deeply angered, deranged mind, and the affects the existence of such people has on society, as young children chillingly chant "Control the violent side." The melody is, again, excellent, even if it suffers for some of the production and Neil's vocal, particularly during the fadeout, is such to cause double takes, as you wonder if it's really Neil projecting like THAT. It's a performance that has to be heard to be believed, and its worth fighting the synths and echoes to do so.

Of course, I don't expect many people to share thoughts like the above on LOW (still can't get over how funny that is, given the album's reputation!) I'm throwing them out there nonetheless, for other people to read, think about, and respond to (or attempt to ridicule if so they desire.) Know, too, that I won't praise everything Neil's done: I find "Old Ways" quite dull, rarely if ever listen to the second half of "Hawks and Doves", and "Are You Passionate?" has near as many misses as hits, not least of all "Let's Roll." "Unplugged" is a bit repetitive given the song selection (though not bad on its own terms, and includes some good material such as the stripped-down "Mr. Soul" and organ-pumped "Like a Hurricane"), and is largely outclassed by The Massey Hall release, the best "unplugged" Neil CD ever. And more: it has some good songs, but I really don't understand why people love "Harvest Moon" *that* much.

You see? Even though my opinions sometimes go against the grain, I don't think Neil is perfect. He has no obligation to be so, either: he's no less human than the rest of us and as such I can forgive what I feel may be his past fallacies, especially since he's turned out a whole lot of really great material over the years, too.


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