Off-Key with Eric D.

Eric D'Orazio

Manic Street Preachers, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers

Now and then, there comes a time when a band runs out of new material. A time when it puts out massively successful albums, with undyingly popular singles, which in turn gets followed up with a reflective (and somewhat recycled) greatest-hits collection. In addition, many bands even go a step further and liquidate the remainder of its back catalogue for release as a b-sides and rarities compilation, not so much as to squeeze more money out of its loyal fans, but to buy time to write, record and release a new album. This being said, such is the situation facing Manic Street Preachers.

Probably the most notable rock band ever to come out of Wales, the Manics have been at the top of the music scene since the release of their first major-label single in 1990. Backed by powerful lyrics, amazing musicianship, and an overall socialist mentality, they’ve procured six hit albums, 30-plus singles and a greatest hits collection that simply dwarfs those of most other bands. However, having released so much to such a successful degree, the band found themselves without anything new to put out in 2003. So, in true form, they scoured their b-sides, covers, and unreleased rarities and pieced together the 2-disc, 35-song set that is “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers.”

Unlike the rarities compilations released by other groups over the years, the Manics’ “Lipstick Traces” is ingeniously put together. Instead of merely throwing together a limited number of b-sides and covers on a shoddily unrepresentative, single-disc album, the Manics have dedicated one disc each to their b-sides and covers. The first disc, a 20-track affair that encompasses their flipside work, contains some of the finest pieces ever recorded by the group. Going between early, politically charged songs like “We Her Majesty’s Prisoners” and “Democracy Coma,” and later, socially reflective songs like “Prologue To History” and “Socialist Serenade,” the album comes across as being timeless. The tracks merge into one another so well that the first disc might as well have been released as new material, for it surely sounds like it.

Though the first disc as a whole is quite superb, it does hold one truly undeniable highlight that makes it all the more special. That song, entitled “Judge Yr’self,” has great importance as being the last piece the Manics wrote with rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards before his mysterious disappearance on Feb. 1, 1995. Originally intended to be the theme song to the Sylvester Stallone film “Judge Dredd,” the song eventually fell out of favor following Edwards’ loss. However, it was fortunately resuscitated for “Lipstick Traces” and recorded with a similar fervor and bombast that characterized the band’s recordings with their estranged guitarist. Encompassing itself with heavy guitars and dealing with finding truth in oneself (and thereby judging oneself through that truth), the song remains a Manics classic through and through. Hands down, “Judge Yr’self” is the absolute standout track on the new compilation, and without a doubt, has the potential to stand the test of time.

In similar form to “Lipstick Traces'” b-sides disc, the 15-track covers disc remains an outstanding achievement as well. Moving between an excellent selection of rock classics new and old, it effectively shows the Manics’ undeniable performance prowess to a thrilling degree.

From old classics like Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” and The Rolling Stones’ “Out Of Time,” to newer masterpieces like Nirvana’s “Been A Son” and Guns N’ Roses’ “It’s So Easy,” the band not only does the songs justice, but plays them with such great passion that the tracks become all their own. Yet out of all those tracks, the Manics’ cover of The Clash’s “Train In Vain” stands foremost. Recorded live in their earlier days, the song not only gets played perfectly, but its seemingly angry content receives superb treatment from singer James Dean Bradfield’s powerful vocals.

To top it all off, the song acquires a vigorous audience response dealt to few other covers by other bands, which in turn shows that with respect to doing such covers, the Manics can do no wrong.

With all things considered, it is certainly apparent that Manic Street Preachers have done it again. They’ve managed to piece together a purely brilliant album by means of their non-album material, and done so in such a way as to represent all aspects of their career in an equal fashion. In truth, it seems as if they did so, not only as a gift to fans, but as a reminder, or homage for that matter, of what they did back in the day, and perhaps what they may do in the future. And though that future holds a long-awaited new album, currently being recorded somewhere in America, the band’s b-sides and covers collection remains more than enough to suffice for the time being.

So regardless of the idea that their forthcoming release seems forever delayed, the bottom line is that for the moment, the Manics have truly achieved something everlasting with “Lipstick Traces.”