It wasn’t a single. It was never played live. It didn’t even sound like anything the band had ever done. And yet by virtue of its stark, dark, beauty acting as a coda for the cosmic grandeur of Souvlaki, “Dagger” became one of Slowdive’s signature songs. A scan of the lyrics invite speculation that it’s about the dissolution of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s romantic relationship, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that confirmed. Closest I can get is this 2014 interview where Neil offers:
“Dagger” is about really specific stuff and I can relate it to a particular time in my life because I know what it’s about.Neil Halstead
WTSH Interviews Neil Halstead & Simon Scott of SLOWDIVE. Interview by Asa Eisenhardt. @ When The Sun Hits
A more typically Slowdive version of the song – Electric guitars! Pedals! – exists and has circulated on bootlegs for decades. Instrumentation aside it’s not that different from the album version.
I think it took a long time into Neil Halstead’s solo career for him to allow Slowdive material into his live sets. He played “Alison” and “40 Days” when I saw him in 2012, but it doesn’t seem “Dagger” made its live debut until the following year, maybe at this show? He only did two June 2013 dates, one in Chile and one in Argentina, but the video doesn’t line up with the set list… but in any case, these performances certainly pointed the way to the Slowdive reunion that came the next year.
And while it has since become a staple of their live sets, they didn’t debut it until a couple of months into their 2014 reunion dates – July 26, 2014 in Shanghai, to be precise. It has the full band treatment that the early demo might have evolved into, and is gorgeous, but also makes me thankful the album version is what it is.
Covers by artists who are not YouTubers in their bedrooms with acoustic guitar do not exactly abound, but the first came from The Hope Blister, 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell’s post-This Mortal Coil project, which brought together various artists to cover his favourite songs. It was the opening track on their only release, 1998’s …Smile’s OK. Lead vocals came from Louise Rutkowski, who also fronted many This Mortal Coil recordings.
The song’s appearance on the 2002 Morr Music Slowdive tribute comp Blue Skied An’ Clear was basically mandatory, and the duty of covering it fell to brief candle German electro-pop duo Hermann & Kleine.
And the most recent version comes from American artist Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, who has been playing it live since last year. Here’s one from a live show in Brooklyn last September, and another from a more intimate session at the End Of The Road fest in England last week for The Line Of Best Fit.