Taking Neil Young’s latest album out for a spin
In 2006, Neil Young released a powerful political album, “Living With War” — an 11-track screed against the Iraq misadventure and the folly of sending young people off to die in faraway lands. It felt immediate, like Young had recorded it in a hurry, harkening back to CSNY’s rapid-fire release of “Ohio” within a few weeks of the shootings at Kent State. Its polemical lyrics, bashing everything from George W. Bush to the mind-dead consumerism of America, were great, but they were icing on the cake. It was the music — angry, raw, full of the powerful guitar that defines so much of Young’s electric work — that had me playing the album nonstop for days.
Reprise RecNow Young has a new political album out, his first release since 2007’s “Chrome Dreams II.” Titled “Fork in the Road,” this album is eco-themed — a long tribute to America’s budding green-car culture.
It’s not a bad album, I suppose, but the muse needed to work up songs about biofuel just doesn’t match the outrage that drove “Living with War.” No surprise, really. War is hell, biofuel is just gas.
Young has been very public about his interest in green cars (he’s a true green believer dating way back to the ’70s with songs like “After the Gold Rush”). And the approach he brings is more likely to resonate with those who live beyond the coastal megacities. He’s not preaching about Priuses or Teslas. No, this guy has converted a 1959 Lincoln Continental into an electric-biofuel hybrid — a big boat of a car that speaks to our cultural longing for the open road and a hoodful of horsepower.
Out of that Lincoln’s tailpipe, one assumes, came “Fork in the Road” (and a still-in-production film titled “LincVolt”). If you’re a longtime Young fan like me, you won’t be disappointed. There are at least three very good songs: “Johnny Magic,” “Fork in the Road,” and “Hit the Road” (you can hear the latter playing on the welcome screen of Young’s official website). The rest of the songs are OK, though I challenge you not to roll your eyes when you hear the “fill ‘er up” shout-out in “Fuel Line.”
Overall, the lyrics on “Fork in the Road” are mostly cheerleading for a clean car future — a future that, in Young’s vision, can let American drivers feel like they’re still maneuvering manly muscle cars.
As a Grist colleague has noted many times, music created with the intent of preaching the green message is overwhelmingly bad. “Fork in the Road” isn’t bad, but it ain’t gonna convert many Hummer lovers. And it probably won’t impress many music lovers, either, other than the truly Neil-committed.
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