Happy 10th: Neil Young, FORK IN THE ROAD
10 years ago this week – yesterday, if you want to be precise – Neil Young released his 29th studio album.
Produced by Young and Niko Bolas under the moniker “The Volume Dealers,” FORK IN THE ROAD was an album inspired by a car. Not just any car, mind you, but the Lincoln Continental that Young had gotten retooled to run on alternative energy. In case you hadn’t gotten the memo, Young’s been part of a project with mechanic Jonathan Goodwin called Lincvolt. Their goal? “To inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st Century and delivers performance that is a reflection of the driver's spirit.”
It's pretty easy to tell that the album’s inspiration was derived from an automobile, thanks to song titles like “Fuel Line,” “Get Behind the Wheel,” and no less than three song titles featuring the word “road”: “Off the Road,” “Hit the Road,” and the title track. The LP was well-received by critics, too, but it’s Neil Young, so what else would you expect? Even when AllMusic offered some criticisms, they did so with the acknowledgment that, hey, it’s Neil Young, and he’s giving you what you expect from a Neil Young album.
“Fittingly, Fork in the Road is like his Lincvolt: it has a new engine in an old body, so it has all of the classic contours but runs a little differently. The Lincvolt might be smooth and efficient, but Fork in the Road is charmingly clunky, a side effect of its quick creation and Young's hard-headedness. Neil might be writing records as quickly as a blogger these days but musically he's stuck in the past, never letting go of his chunky Les Paul and candied folk harmonies, embracing his status as an old crank so enthusiastically he happily presents himself as a crazy old coot on the album's cover.”
FORK IN THE ROAD ultimately met a better fate than its inspiration: the album hit #19 on the Billboard 200 and earned Young a Grammy nod for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, but the Lincvolt’s wall charging system caused a fire which caused more than a million dollars of damage. Young’s position on the matter: “The wall charging system was not completely tested and had never been left unattended. A mistake was made. It was not the fault of the car.”
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