Neil Young puts out a lot of albums. Neil’s always been a bit cantankerous. Neil’s always spoken his mind. Or rather sung his mind. ON FITR, we have a pissed off coot who is living in the moment and at this moment, he happens to be in love with his car. This whole album is fueled by automotive energy. (I promise I won’t slip into auto imagery too much here!) So what is he pissed off at? With Neil, it’s usually political and there are several pointed jabs towards the cause and effects of the recent economic downturn. Was it savvy or coincidence that this album came out about the same time as all the automotive industry bailout hooha? This record is just as much, though, about the open road. It’s about the top down. It’s about sitting up high in a big rig.There aren’t many artists that could get away with a WHOLE album based on autos. (even Bruce just does a song here or there on his records!) But Neil has car on the brain at this moment and that’s what you get completely on FITR.
And the reason is, he loves cars. He’s been working with fuel efficient and clean energy ways to transport his tour for awhile now. And his personal project has been the re-rigging of a 1959 Lincoln Continental. The conversion of this one time gas guzzler (10 mpg) by putting in an electric engine (100 mpg now!) serves as a metaphor for a new charge in an old body. Neil drove the “LincVolt” to Washington as a statement, old hippy that he is.
Speaking of brain, a brain aneurysm almost killed him about five years ago. Perhaps that incident has sparked him even more so than ever to write about what’s immediate on his mind. And if that means writing and recording and releasing an album in the time that most bands would be still sitting around trying to come up with concepts, then so be it. Neil did it recently with LIVING WITH WAR and his GREENDALE projects.
It’s also been in the last few years that Neil’s wife Pegi has become WAY more of a vocal presence in his sound. Her harmonies defined the Greendale project and have been there since. In fact, she’s performing with him regularly now as part of his band AND she even opens up for him on tour sometimes. Her vocal addition doesn’t make or break anything herebbut it’s kind of comfortable knowing that she’s doing this with her husband now. As parents of a severely handicapped son, both Neil and Pegi spent many years in programs AND developing programs to help their non-communicative son Ben. Pegi’s musical career was pushed aside until the recent release of her own solo album. She’s living her Linda McCartney years now and good for her.
Neil Young has written some of the most incredible, rocking, poignant, exquisite, searing songs ever during the course of his career. He has also written a few clunkers. Sometimes you get the clanging guitar playing with the forceful lyrics. Sometimes you get the sweet, heart aching ballads with the mournful harmonica and the acoustic guitar. Sometimes you don’t. On FORK IN THE ROAD, you get ’em and you don’t. There are flashes of Neil’s fiery blistering attacks that no one can replicate. “Just Singing A Song” provides a glimpse of “Hurricane.” And “Johnny Magic” is a rollicking bar burner with a feel of “My My Hey Hey” (the electric one) with its refrain of “Johnny Magic…Johnny Magic” (insert “Johnny Rotten….Johnny Rotten”). But then “Cough up the Bucks” is just annoying and limp. “Get Behind the Wheel” is Stevie Ray Vaughn/Texas blues through and through. The title tune owes its existence to John Lee Hooker. It has a fun narrative (“Got a pot belly…it’s not too big” and “I’m a big rock star… My sales have tanked but I still got you. Thanks.” )There are two lovely lower keyed songs here in this set. “Off the Road” as well as is “Light a Candle” with Ben Keith’s extremely effective lap steel playing.
So altogether, what do we have? We have Neil Young. We’ve always allowed the not so great with the stellar when it comes to Neil. Why should it change now? The man’s got things on his mind, after and is capable of letting us know in record time. Good for him!