Released on: So Why So Sad (Single #27) Epic Records, 26 February 2001
Also on: Know Your Enemy (Album #6) Epic Records, 19 March 2001
Peak UK Chart Position: #8
Band Ranking: #37
While only one of quite a number of unusual Manics songs (particularly during 2001 – 2002 period), ‘So Why So Sad’ is likely the oddest recording the band ever put out as a single. Given the striking strangeness of this song, its double-single release with [A122] ‘Found That Soul’ makes more sense, as the more standard song could cushion this one. Surprisingly, it was actually ‘So Why So Sad’ which sold slightly better.
Reactions to this song were more divided outside the commercial sphere. Among fans, it has become a minor icon of hate among Manics singles and the band also have a low opinion of it, ranking it at a very lowly #37 and believing that the remix by The Avalanches is superior. So, ‘So Why So Sad’, why so unpopular?
Well, the song is almost as far away from the Manics’ standard formula as the band have ever ventured. Built around a droning organ and embellished with guitar, drums, backing vocals and enough bells to almost completely fill up all available space in the mix, ‘So Why So Sad’ is extremely dense even before the incongruous and huge-sounding synthesizer solo that explodes into life before the end. While the most commonly-made comparison is with the summery, ornate music of the Beach Boys, the track is so uniquely off the wall musically that even this is a little misleading.
For all its instrumental eccentricities, ‘So Why So Sad’ is quite simple both structurally and lyrically even if its full meaning is obscured. It has been suggested that a reference to the Dead Sea scrolls and the line “dependent on above” imply that there is a religious connection, but there’s no further support for this outside the chorus. What few clear lines on the subject there are could lead to a suggestion that the song’s title refers to a question posed to the religious; i.e., “why does your belief not bring you happiness – so why so sad?”
Such an unusual song just wouldn’t come across properly without a bizarre video, and director Jamie Thraves came up with the goods and then some. His effort mainly infuses some decadent sunny beach scenes with war scenes right out of Vietnam circa 1969; presumably the desired effect is to underline how very different events are always taking place in different locations at the same time, or that bloodshed is a necessary component of Western affluence. In any case, there are also some beautifully shot scenes of the band playing, possibly on Tracy Island by the look of things.
Endearingly rather than frustratingly strange, ‘So Why So Sad’ feels like one of the most bold moments in the Manics discography, even if it never threatens to reach the heights that the best singles achieve.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“spirit so low that I no longer pretend”
Dead Sea Scrolls – a term used to refer to various documents dating from ancient Palestine that were discovered on the shores of the Dead Sea in the West Bank between 1946 and 1956. Included within them are early manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible.
Expressway to my skull – almost a lift from the song ‘Expressway to Yr Skull’, a song by American rock band Sonic Youth from their 1986 album E.V.O.L..