|If you're going to go roots....you might as well go all the way.|
Today’s song brings up something that intrigues me. Neil Halstead, who wrote and played this very moody and atmospheric little piece of rootsy, folky tuneage, was one of the founding members of Slowdive. Slowdive was one of the leading purveyors of showgaze, a musical genre that I talked about somewhat recently. But once Slowdive broke up as bands that aren't interested in sucking the nostalgic dry of their money inevitably do, Halstead went off to form Mojave 3. Mojave 3 is a country folk outfit, and Halstead’s solo work has continued on this path.
What is it about alternative rockers that they want to return to roots music once they strike off on their own? There are far too many who have done this--John Doe did this after he left X, Bob Mould did this after Husker Du crumbled, Kristen Hersh did this when Throwing Muses was in flux...the list goes on and on. I’m sure you can come up with four or five examples yourself. Is it because there is this perception of folk, bluegrass, country and other ‘roots’ genres as being ‘purer’ forms? Is it because writing music in a less tortured form acts as a palette cleanser, preparing these people for whatever their muse has in store for them next? Is it a desire to cut through the red tape and make it just the singer and the song, stripped of layers of noise and production, so he or she can better communicate with the listener?
Granted, some of this impetuous to go down these country roads may just be a need to liberate oneself. I talked recently on an episode of Maurice Bursztynski’s excellent Love That Album about how going solo liberated Stan Ridgway to follow his true passion for telling stories with his song, and I suspect something similar motivated Halstead. There’s no denying that Halstead’s voice is suited to the stripped down arrangements of folk--this song features only him and his guitar, allowing us to soak in this evocative tale of a man and a woman at the exact moment where their relationship disintegrates. The way Halstead switches from being accusatory to resigned to warning his now former paramour that she might find out what she wants isn't for the best is seamless, all bolstered by the wonderful guitar work. It’s at turns beautiful and dreadful, as I imagine such a moment would feel to a lover giving up the fight.
There are times I wonder if these sudden changes in direction work (the decision of alt-pop darlings The Popinjays to become roots folkers with their third album confounds me to this very day, but that’s a story for another time)...but when they work, like with Neil Halstead, it’s magic.