Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: Neil Young, "Fork in the Road"

It’s always interesting to see what’s making Neil Young tick at the present and right now it’s a 1959 Lincoln Continental that had been retooled to run entirely on alternative energy. However there’s a point on the title track where the grizzled Young sneers, “there’s a bailout comin’ but its not for you”, it’s here that you may begin to muse, maybe there’s something else at play here other than energy efficient cars.

With the automotive references coming thick and fast, subtle it is not, but raw and exciting it is. The basslines go for a long stroll while the guttural drums thud away like howitzers, the old boy’s still got some groove rattling round in his body. Not in a tight, funky groove way, but with a ramshackle, scurvy rhythm. This is bonehead, neanderthal rock, the kind of thing Crazy Horse did for years.

The record is as filthy as engine oil, where the guitars thrash out formless blues riffs, blues with the distinct odour of grease and gasoline. It’s a typical Young production, amp volume boosted into the stratosphere, wild lead guitar fills with audible static, cymbals battered and decaying, in other words it’s vibrant and alive.

It seems unfair to pick out one track for examination above another when they mesh together so well, Some are underpinned with the intoxicating country swagger of Ben Keith’s pedal steel, others are topped-off with Young’s clipped guitar chops mimicking the rusty cogs of an engine turning over. One track rolls into another, ‘Johnny Magic’ references Jonathan Goodwin his partner in the Lincvolt project, the tender ‘Light a Candle’ sounds like an updated version of Gene Clark’s ‘Silver Raven’. Elsewhere ‘Cough up the Bucks’ and ‘Get Behind the Wheel’ take deconstructionist rock to extreme, almost ludicrous levels.

The world weary lyrics of ‘Just Singing a Song Won’t Change the World’ remind us that Young’s been through it all before, the recessions, wars and social upheavals and remind us also of his grim determination to grind away mercilessly. Just like the ’59 Continental, an archaic gas-guzzler converted into a beacon of environmental hope, Young the rambling troubadour is born again.

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