Neil Halstead is an indie-folk singer/songwriter from Reading, England. He was the front of the seminal shoegaze band Slowdive in the early-mid 1990s. That band didn’t so much split up as they were forced off the Creation Records label. When that went down, Halstead, Rachel Goswell and Ian McCutcheon carried on, but in a different way. They were 75% of Slowdive, and they could have kept going with that name, but they had a new vision that wasn’t at all Slowdive. They became the indie-folk band Mojave 3. That band was active between 1995 and 2006. Rachel had to step away from the band in 2006 when she developed permanent hearing loss from chronic tinnitus. Neil and Rachel had each already recorded solo records, but Rachel’s health concerns meant that their musical partnership was over.
A couple of years later, Halstead released his second solo record, then he released a new one last month. I’m a fan, but I don’t have either the second one or the new one. Today’s song is the title track from his 2002 debut.
“Sleeping on Roads” by Neil Halstead
I love how this starts out with guitar and banjo. It’s totally Sufjan. More Sufjan even than some songs that actually are Sufjan Stevens songs. Of course once the steel guitar comes in at 0:06, you can be sure that it isn’t Sufjan.
I guess, fundamentally, this is about fading love. It seems like it’s about a flavour of the month who has run her course. It might be about a groupie who gets thrown out of the entourage, the way that Stillwater “sold” their groupie Penny Lane to Humble Pie for $50 and a case of beer in the movie Almost Famous.
Here’s the lyric sheet:
Sleeping on roads, girl yeah and taking my time
Taking it easy while the sun it does shine
While out on the sideline there’s a whisper in your mind
Watch for the road girl, it might just break your heart
You drink from the bottle yeah, you drink from the vine
Living is easy if ya got something to be
Sleeping on roads girl is fine
Sleeping on roads is fine for a time
I wrote you a song, cause I love the way you are
Wrote you a song, cause I love the way you act
Wrote you a song but I don’t need you no more
So watch for the cars babe, cause they can fuck you up
Watch for the cars babe, cause they can fuck you up
There might not be a harsher way to tell someone to hit the bricks. “Wrote you a song, but I don’t need you no more. So watch for the cars babe, cause they can fuck you up”. That’s pretty brutal. It’s a pretty song, but it’s an ugly scene.
The last two minutes are all instrumental, and that’s one of the things that I really like. The coda kind of drags on, but it’s not just a couple of measures of music repeated over and over. Listen for the dynamics of the drums. Especially in the last 1:18, when the guitar and banjo parts keep repeating. My favorite is the flourish at 3:34. I don’t know why I love that so much, but I do. And it only does that specific flourish once.
Neil Halstead is currently touring the United States in support of his new album Palindrome Hunches. He’ll finish up October on this side of the Atlantic before spending November in the UK and December on a limited tour of Europe. I missed him when he played in my neck of the woods. Check the tour calendar here to find out when he’s going to be in your part of the world.
Also, you can buy Sleeping on Roads from amazon here. While you’re doing that, consider buying the new one. They have an Amazon exclusive. A special edition of the physical CD, limited to 500 copies. The whole package is a top-bound spiral notebook with Neil’s hand-written lyrics and a little pocket for the CD itself. I have a hard time believing that each copy was literally written by Neil’s hand, but it seems pretty neat anyway.