Everything wrong with the Manic Street Preachers boils down to this: they took the name of their B-sides and rarities collection, Lipstick Traces, not from Benny Spellman's classic New Orleans R&B single, but from Greil Marcus' academic book on punk rock, which borrowed the title from Spellman. In other words, they come from the head, not the heart; they're beholden to platitudes and the texts that are traded between earnest college freshman and sophomores as they realize that the world is so much larger than what they've known before. Of course, this doomed romanticism has an appeal, even for those who have outgrown it, and at their best, the Manics embodied that spirit: the fleeting moment when all possibilities were endless but also tragic, every choice theoretical, not practical. This can be heard in the band's music, but not too clearly on Lipstick Traces, even if it's billed as a "Secret History of the Manic Street Preachers." The problem is, the Manics put so much energy into their albums -- which were always conceptual expressions of emotion and theory, always tied together by similar musical themes -- they didn't have many interesting songs left over for the B-sides. They had a few noteworthy flip sides -- "4 Ever Delayed," for instance, which leant its title for their hits collection, along with "Prologue to History" and "Democracy Coma" -- but by and large, their rarities sounded like outtakes and rejects. As the first disc of Lipstick Traces shows, these are pleasant enough if you wanted an extension of the album, even if the songs just aren't as good. The second disc of Lipstick Traces is a little more interesting since it's devoted to nothing but covers. These illustrate that the Manics, like any well-read college kid, have excellent taste but can't quite turn that into something original. Nowhere is that better heard than on their didactic version of "Rock & Roll Music," which, due to its plodding beat and ham-fisted vocals, is quite possibly the worst Chuck Berry cover ever. It's plagued by their earnestness, as are many other covers here -- face it, "Take the Skinheads Bowling" may have some slyly serious sentiments, but it was never meant to be performed seriously. The Manics don't fare well when they try to be faithful, as on a version of the Rolling Stones' "Out of Time," which mimics the arrangement and sounds stilted, nor do they do much better when they try to be inventive, as when they turn Nirvana's "Been a Son" into a bottleneck blues; both are hampered by their ambitions, which are written on their sleeve and never ingrained in the music. The list goes on: "Wrote for Luck" lacks the dangerous hedonism of the Happy Mondays, "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is achingly oversincere, "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" is a theoretical exercise that never should have been executed. All this floundering makes for interesting listening, and it's worth digging through this disc to hear the Manics when they do connect. The two Clash covers ("What's My Name," "Train in Vain") are impassioned, since the band absorbed all of Strummer and Jones' lessons, Guns n' Roses' "It's So Easy" is charmingly reckless, and their take on Wham!'s "Last Christmas" is the one time that they effectively capture the sentiment that is an undercurrent in their work. So, Lipstick Traces is uneven, but any die-hard fan willing to explore a "secret history" will know that collections like this are by their nature usually inconsistent. Some of the Manics' peers did deliver consistently on their B-sides -- Suede and Oasis have B-sides collections every bit as good as their proper albums -- but they themselves didn't. And that's fine -- this collection was put out for the sake of completeness, and for completists, it's a good buy. But less dedicated fans can pass it by.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2