Fork In The Road

Neil Young

Reprise, 2009

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Technology looms large over the music industry these days; some fully accept it as the wave of the future, while others claim it “slows them down.” Social media is a burgeoning distribution method. Bands release free singles through email,or plant clues to their upcoming works with a USB drive in a bathroom at a concert. Were we so inclined, The Vault could sum up their reviews for albums in 140 characters and post it on services such as Twitter.

The main characteristic of technology and music in the present day is one of immediacy. It is no longer necessary to have a record label go through the arduous task of printing and creating a CD for a release; instead, within minutes an artists can post his/her creation online and have it be available for the entire world to download. This has allowed musicians to remain current and topical in ways that just were not possible even ten to fifteen years ago.

Neil Young has fully embraced this new mindset, recording albums that focus on current events such as the Iraq War and releasing material in massive multimedia packages that utilize the latest formats (the long awaited Archives Vol 1. will be released on BluRay in certain editions.) For a man who has long had his pulse on the troubles that plague the country and the world, he has to enjoy what gifts advances in technology have brought to him.nbtc__dv_250

Young’s latest offering is Fork In The Road, essentially a low-concept album about transforming his old Lincoln Continental into a fuel-efficient eco-friendly machine. It may be a few months late, but the record definitely ties into the Go Green fad America went through last summer and has continued to this day (to a point). Everything about Fork In The Road screams low-key and current, from its album cover that appears to have been taken by camera phone to the actual topical references to the current recession and other environmental concerns.

Such options that are available to Young can be a curse and a blessing in that there is a chance the material might not be as strong or compelling as it would have been otherwise. Admittedly, there is a rugged charm to this disc, capturing that essence of Young and Co. plugging into the amps in someone’s garage and just playing, albeit with a few production flourishes.

However, that does not mean that the material itself manages to stand on its own merits. There are few tracks that give off the impression that it took Young longer than a few minutes to come up with a series of chords and put it on tape. There are exceptions; “Light A Candle” represents the only true acoustic number on the record and is a touching, reassuring nod of better things to come. Young also manages to churn out a few chugging rockers reminiscent of the old days (“Johnny Magic,” “Fuel Line,” “Fork In The Road”).

Unfortunately, there are not many lyrical revelations to be had on Fork In The Road. Besides the many, many references to his refurbished automobile, Young rarely steps outside his comfort zone of railing against big business and the puppet masters pulling the strings in Washington. A track like “Cough Up The Bucks” does not hide behind a mask of subtlety; Young flat out rages against the machine, asking “Where did the money go?” Still, in an age of political correctness, it is refreshing to still find an artist willing to come out and say what is on his mind.

The same reservations that I had about Living With War were present with Fork In The Road. There is no true con to hearing more from Neil Young, but by the same token, the question is: did we need more right now? The answers to that question lies in how much one views him as a social commentator and storyteller. There’s nothing terribly wrong at the core of Fork In The Road, and it’s a pleasant enough diversion, but this is one trip that doesn’t come across as anything more than unnecessary.

Rating: B-

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© 2009 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise, and is used for informational purposes only.