Wild Mercury Sound

Neil Young: "Fork In The Road"

John Mulvey

Not for the first time, we’re starting to get an inkling that Neil Young might have been distracted from releasing “Archives” again. The latest digression was signalled on his run of American shows before Christmas, when something like ten new songs gradually made their way into the setlist.

Now, though, a finished track called “Fork In The Road” has turned up, streamed at www.neilyoung.com. Like a lot of the new songs previewed on the tour, “Fork In The Road” is essentially a driving song, presumably connected with the Linc-Volt car project which Young has been alluding to for a while now. And if you were wary of “Living With War”’s somewhat unvarnished feel, you should be aware that, on first acquaintance, “Fork In The Road” makes that set seem glossy and considered.

It is, then, a ramshackle roadhouse chugger pitched somewhere between Canned Heat, “Roadrunner” and some weird downhome Velvets, with Young intoning the not-tremendously profound lyrics in a droll, comparatively deep register. The opening lines seem to be, interestingly, “Got a pot belly, it’s not too big/ It gets in my way, when I’m driving my rig.”

“Fork In The Road” is kind of fun, though it might alarm a good few Neil fans when heard in conjunction with those other new songs – live versions are all over the internet, if you’re interested. It’s certainly alarmed plenty of our friends over at Thrasher’s Wheat, whose consternation has been collated into a useful article on Young’s latest diversion there.

I can see a lot of their points, not least that this seems notably rudimentary, facile stuff even for someone like Young who has made such a virtue of simplicity. What I find amusing, though, is that what “Fork In The Road” and the other Linc-Volt songs seem to represent, in a way, is a kind of gold standard for a lot of rock fans. I often whinge a little here about the doomed and wrong-headed pursuit in certain critical/fannish circles for an idea of authenticity in music, for a direct and unmediated expression of the artist’s passionate creative spark.

I always believe that kind of spontaneous art only really occurs in the world of free improvised music, but it strikes me that these Neil Young songs might be just about as close to it as rock ever gets: evidently written swiftly, on the hoof, and recorded – in “Fork In The Road” – with even less rehearsal and preparation than usual. It feels more or less like an instant composition, and one which, again even by Young’s bloody-minded standards, makes no allowances for his listeners whatsoever.

We’re accustomed to thinking that songs about love, bereavement and so on are the most acutely personal that a writer can produce – hence the veneration of, say, “Tonight’s The Night”. But those are universal themes, as opposed to some fetishistic private celebration of some trashed old cars, set to cranky, dumb garage boogie. You want a direct insight into Neil Young’s head? Maybe here it is.

All things considered, I’d probably rather be listening to “Archives” this morning. But frustration aside, it’s hard not to find new ways of admiring the old curmudgeon as this glut of creativity/farce unravels.


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