Given Neil Young’s outspoken environmentalism, the fact that ForkIn The Road is a concept album about an electric car shouldn’t be thatmuch of a surprise. Still, most people tend to respond with a confusedchuckle when they first find out. It’s difficult to imagine that suchan album could be anything but preachy. Indeed, in some weird,premonitory twist, a South Park episode featuring an ironicallysmug ditty about hybrid cars has already been screened.
But this is Neil Young we are talking about, and while hisrecent releases, particularly Living With War and Chrome Dreams II,have seen him in blunt and to-the-point form, he still has plenty ofimagination – certainly enough to make an album about a hybrid carsurprisingly fertile.
For those still not in the know as to how Fork In The Road cameabout, Young is currently working on a documentary on his project toconvert 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 songsthat are loosely associated.
The question as to whether they are any good is quite tough toanswer. Come on, it’s Neil Young. He’s a legend. That falsetto tenoris present and correct, sounding as beautifully eerie as ever.Musically speaking, there are some pretty great tunes, even though thetone 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 aforementionedpreachy territory. In Fuel Line, for example, his hybrid becomes She;Young tells us about the “awesome power of electricity, stored for youin a giant battery”, and urges us to “fill her up”. It’s probably oneof the most uncomfortable sexual metaphors in the history of music,but the backing singers are so wonderful that you forgive it almostimmediately.
For the most part, Young is also actually quite on point with whathe has to say. Just Singing A Song has the classic line, “just singinga song won’t change the world”, which probably needs to be stapled tothe forehead of just about every artist who got a warm happy feelingfrom doing a song for charity and thought they’d done their good deedfor 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 havewhat amounts to a really enjoyable album. It’s not what you’d callpretty, exactly, but there’s a hell of a lot of charm and admirablegrit to Young’s decision to say bollocks to politeness and tell itlike it is. He sings on Fuel Line, “some old timers just want to staythe same”. An old timer he may be, but he might never have been moretimely.