With the news this morning that Neil Young has been confirmed to headline both Glastonbury and Hyde Park Hard Rock Calling in June, I’ve finally got my head around his new album, “Fork In The Road”, as promised.
It sometimes strikes me that while many of his fans might perceive Neil’s greatest moment as, I don’t know, “Like A Hurricane” or “Cortez The Killer” or something, the singer himself maybe privileges “Piece Of Crap” above all his other songs these days. He may also have a higher regard for “Re-Ac-Tor” in its entirety than is strictly canonical.
This is the tradition into which “Fork In The Road” generally fits, just as “Living With War” and, to a degree, “Greendale” did: home-cooked, unvarnished, phenomenally unsteady, more or less spontaneous. It strikes me that latterday Neil fans will be somewhat divided on this one. Those that favour the more finished likes of “Prairie Wind” (or God forbid, “Are You Passionate?”) will probably find it annoyingly lo-fi and cranky.
Those of us, however, who prefer Neil in this rough-hewn mood, with ideas in the ascendant over schmaltz, may be happier. I’d prefer the epic, billowing side that came to the fore on a good half of “Chrome Dreams II”, but he doesn’t seem to go down that path on record so often these days.
In the absence of a new “No Hidden Path” – and, indeed, the absence of those damned “Archives” – “Fork In The Road” will do fine. It is, as suspected, a crude and bashed-out garage rock album that loosely connects motoring with the American economy. But beneath the rough edges, a good few of these ten swift songs are keepers.
The title track you’ll already know (I blogged about it here), not least from that superb Youtube video. “Get Behind The Wheel” is much in the same vein, another choogle that’s a good deal faster than Young’s contemplative slouch.
Much of the album, in fact, rattles along at a quicker rate than his default speed. It’s far from a smooth ride, though: “Cough Up The Bucks” features a crotchety anchoring riff that seems to mirror the spluttering if still powerful engine of one of Young’s hulking old cars. Only the lovely “Just Singing A Song” features Young’s keynote lyrical playing, that stunned expansiveness, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “Ragged Glory”.
There are many odd things here, of course, including the first single, “Johnny Magic”, with clipped, cutesy backing vox that – aligned with the song title – remind me terrifyingly of Jonathan King’s “Johnny Reggae” (big caveat: I haven’t heard that record in years and years, so could be completely wrong there). Two tracks slow down the chug: “Off The Road” is a ballad so exhausted and damaged, it almost seems to collapse, rather pleasingly; “Light A Candle” is more delicate and finessed and, with Ben Keith in evidence, might temporarily placate “Prairie Wind” fans.
But then “Fork In The Road” trundles off again, and provides us all with an, albeit snarky, mission statement: “Keep on blogging ‘til the power goes out. . .”