Release Date: Apr 7, 2009
Record label: Reprise
Road warrior still making driving rock The backstory on Neil Young’s umpteenth studio album—rock star works with crazed mechanical genius to convert a beat-up ‘59 Lincoln Continental into a lean, green, eco-friendly machine, then drives it across America just to show that he can—informs nearly every song on Fork in the Road. There are almost as many references to cars, wheels, and roads in these lyrics as in the entire Springsteen catalog. Not surprisingly, all the car references and metaphors mean more than they seem, and Young has more on his mind than simple nostalgia for the golden age of the American auto.
Set in a dilapidated Veterans Administration hospital, Article 99 may be the first medical melodrama that isn’t about dedicated physicians performing life-saving acts of valor. It’s about dedicated physicians not performing life- saving acts of valor: Their hands are tied by the crisis in veterans’ health care — the calamitous lack of funding, the red tape, the increasingly prevalent policy of refusing to cover conditions (such as heart problems) that aren’t directly related to military service. To function as doctors, the movie’s heroes have to become outlaws in their own hospital.
When 2007’s Chrome Dreams II came out, it was nice to have the old Neil Young back. Not the grumpy old man of Living With War (2006) but the reflective statesman who just loved a cool breeze in his hair and an old country road. We should all be careful what we wish for. Young’s latest, Fork in the Road, sure has those breezes and those roads.
When Neil Young gave Fork in the Road its first airing on tour, fans thought the album would be so bad that several begged the record company not to release it. It was inspired by the Lincvolt project, in which Young's beloved 1959 Lincoln Continental was retooled by auto mechanic Johnathan Goodwin so as to make it far more fuel-efficient. The resulting album is a ragbag of environmentalist/credit-crunch rants and rusty old chuggers.
Consider for a moment that the word “inspiration” means, etymologically speaking, the act of breathing in, something human beings must accomplish non-stop, without thinking, to exist. Although creative types like to talk about “waiting for inspiration” to strike, it’s nice to be reminded of the word’s origin and realize that inspiration, as an ideal, is all around us. To live, we must constantly be inspired.
Here it is - Neil Young's "car" album, the one inspired by his latest vehicular obsession: Lincvolt, a 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible that he outfitted with an electric engine and then drove to Washington. While the concept is inspired and resoundingly current, the jangly blues-bar rock seems an afterthought. Car-pun-heavy lyrics about mileage statistics and revenue streams - "Fill 'er up!" he shouts repeatedly in Fuel Line - make this a real stinker.
Neil Young's topicality forever courts disposability. 2006's Living With War and Are You Passionate? an administration earlier still ebb Bush-era bathwater. Yet when today transcends tomorrow, as on 1979's Rust Never Sleeps and Freedom a decade later, there's no stopping this "Old Man" whose '59 Lincoln Continental drives these latest headlines. Rust job Johnny Rotten becomes Road killer "Johnny Magic," flooring his now-green "heavy metal Continental" from Wichita to Congress as the "motorhead messiah." The succeeding "Cough Up the Bucks," another truck-stop chug, shrugs, "It's all about my car ...