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Neil Young
Fork In The Road John Ridpath , April 6th, 2009 06:52

Is 2009 really the time to revive rock's passion for driving? For better or worse, Neil Young has revisited that old cliché of a guitar-slinger getting his kicks out on Route 66. But this is not the gas-guzzling growl of Deep Purple, Steppenwolf or Golden Earring. Trading in the pink Cadillac of rock n' roll excess for a green one, Fork in the Road reconciles America's dream of "big cars for big people" with climate change and the financial crisis.

Sadly, it doesn't always work. 'Fuel Line' is a paean to an eco-friendly car. Lyrically, it's hard to imagine a worse premise. Led by a riff straight outta Aerosmith's Greatest Hits, country-rock backing singers harmonise the refrain 'keep filling that fuel line, keep filling that old fuel line'. Then Young joins in with a spoken-word chorus: 'fill her up, fill her up, fill her up'. Fill her up with what Neil? "The awesome power of electricity, stored for you in a giant battery; she runs so quiet, she scares like a ghost". Has the great American automobile ever sounded less sexy?

On the bluesy title track, Young reflects upon America's political landscape. There's a fork in the road ahead and – guess what – he don't know which way he's gonna turn. Even so, the anthemic chorus should rouse this summer's festival audiences: "There's a bailout coming but it's not for you, it's for all those creeps hiding what they do". Things improve further with 'Johnny Magic', a hard rockin' lead single in praise of eco-mechanic Johnathan Goodwin. Arnold Schwarzenegger had his Jeep Wagoneer converted to Bio-diesel by Johnny; Young's 1959 Lincoln Continental became a 100 miles-per-gallon hybrid. In the words of another Fork in the Road track, "just singing a song won't change the world".

After all this talk of highways, one of the strongest songs turns out to be the acoustic pit-stop. 'Light a Candle', thankfully, is not a plea for us to switch off our electric lights. Instead, it's a hopeful glance towards the future (yes, we can!). Young recorded his last studio album, Living with War, after growing dissatisfied with the dearth of politicised musicians during the Bush years: "I was hoping some young person would come along and say this and sing some songs about it, but I didn't see anybody, so I'm doing it myself"'. Fork in the Road isn't a classic album by any stretch of the imagination, but it's another admirable protest while we wait for the younger voices to start singing.