Given Neil Young‘s outspoken environmentalism, the fact that ForkIn The Road is a concept album about an electric car shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Still, most people tend to respond with a confused chuckle when they first find out. It’s difficult to imagine that such an album could be anything but preachy. Indeed, in some weird, premonitory twist, a South Park episode featuring an ironically smug ditty about hybrid cars has already been screened.
But this is Neil Young we are talking about, and while his recent releases, particularly Living With War and Chrome Dreams II, have seen him in blunt and to-the-point form, he still has plenty of imagination – certainly enough to make an album about a hybrid car surprisingly fertile.
For those still not in the know as to how Fork In The Road came about, Young is currently working on a documentary on his project to convert a 1959 Lincoln Continental to hybrid technology and drive it to Washington as a form of protest. Fork In The Road is a series of songs that are loosely associated.
The question as to whether they 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. Heeven goes completely Beastie Boys on Cough Up The Bucks, verging on rap during the chorus.
Lyrically, sometimes Young does head into that aforementioned preachy territory. In Fuel Line, for example, his hybrid becomes She; Young tells us about the “awesome power of electricity, stored for you in a giant battery”, and urges us to “fill her up”. It’s probably one of the most uncomfortable sexual metaphors in the history of music, but the backing singers are so wonderful that you forgive it almost immediately.
For the most part, Young is also actually quite on point with what he has to say. Just Singing A Song has the classic line, “just singing a song won’t change the world”, which probably needs to be stapled to the forehead of just about every artist who got a warm happy feeling from doing a song for charity and thought they’d done their good deed for a lifetime.
Throw in two much-needed ballads that hark, in some ways, back toHarvest in the form of Off The Road and Light A Candle and you have what amounts to a really enjoyable album. It’s not what you’d call pretty, exactly, but there’s a hell of a lot of charm and admirable grit to Young’s decision to say bollocks to politeness and tell it like it is. He sings on Fuel Line, “some old timers just want to stay the same”. An old timer he may be, but he might never have been more timely.