Released on: Kevin Carter (Single #19) Epic Records, 30 September 1996
Peak UK Chart Position: #9
Band Ranking: #14
And hot on the heels of one of the most unique and interesting Manics B-sides comes one of the best. ‘Sepia’ has long been a major favourite, made a much-deserved appearance on Lipstick Traces and could easily have replaced any of several tracks on Everything Must Go itself, had it not ended up on the Kevin Carter single.
How does ‘Sepia’ succeed so dramatically? Let us count the ways. First, its lyrics are a step above most of the songs of this period and benefit enormously from being rooted in an extended reference to the 1969 classic Western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which the band had previously alluded to by covering [O75c] ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, which appeared in the film. The song compares a life spent focusing on the past – that theme again – with being “perpetually stuck in a sepia film”. Butch Cassidy famously ends with its heroes running out into certain death, leading to a freeze frame that fades to sepia. The film is also famous for its use of anachronism, which itself ties into the themes of time and memory in ‘Sepia’. There are several great lines, to boot.
Second, the music is superb throughout – never being showy or particularly experimented but instead rooted in the acoustic/electric interplay that characterises much of the EMG era, it rumbles along in such a satisfying way. Of particular note is the unique-sounding fuzzy solo which just perfectly suits the ragged feeling of the whole song and is undoubtedly one of Bradfield’s best from this period. It’s great work.
Third is simply it all comes together. Quite a lot of Manics B-sides derive their enjoyment from one particular idea, instrumental element or hook while the rest of the song is rather more ordinary. ‘Sepia’, by contrast, is absolutely the sum of its parts which is precisely why it feels that it could have been an album track, if not a single. This song demanded a large audience, which is why it was so important for it to make its appearance on Lipstick Traces. Excellent.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“for the first time ever / I don’t understand my television”