What an oddity the Manic Street Preachers must’ve seemed when they emerged kicking and screaming and furtively evolved in the early 1990s.

These were no floppy-haired shoegazers from the Home Counties. Neither were they holey jumper wearing, Fender Jaguar playing introverts from the Pacific North West. These were new-age punks with a glam sensibility. Four hair-metal posturing, left wing sloganeering boys from Blackwood, South Wales. Their ambitions were grand and their music brash (at least at first), loud and exciting. They wanted to "ignite sparks in people’s minds" according to bassist Nicky Wire. No wonder they were a difficult band to pigeonhole. Just ask Steve Lamacq.

National Treasures is the complete Manic Street Preachers singles collection. 38 tracks arranged chronologically, spanning the early Heavenly recordings through to new single ‘This Is the Day’. (Notoriously) devout Manics fans will no doubt have everything on here already. For the uninitiated, National Treasures should provide an indispensable guide to one of Brit Rock’s more curious cases.

‘Motown Junk’ and ‘Stay Beautiful’ from 1992’s Generation Terrorists still sound playful and vital. ‘You Love Us’, with its ‘Paradise City’ style breakdown – The Clash weren’t the only band they were enthral to – is carnally seductive, as is James Dean Bradfield’s blistering guitar playing. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is, and always will be, an indie-club anthem, an anti-consumerist message parked just on the right side of soft rock. Of all the songs on their debut included here, it’s perhaps only ‘Suicide is Painless’ which now sounds dated and overblown (a state the Manics have flirted with on numerous occasions, but on the whole, astutely avoided).

‘From Despair to Where’ (in this writer’s opinion, their best song) and ‘Roses in the Hospital’, from 1993’s derided Gold Against the Soul, are overtly less politicised than anything on Generation Terrorists. Some would say the Manics had lost their edge at this point (that was actually to occur much later in the decade), but there are plenty of positives to gleam - the considered, more restrained approach to songwriting, Richey Edwards and Nick Wire’s inherent humour – “nothing really makes me happy…heroin is just too trendy” (from ‘Roses in the Hospital’), the emergence of the introverted and intensely dark lyrical themes that were to characterize 1994’s The Holy Bible.

Incidentally, James Dean Bradfield stated in a recent NME interview that the reason The Holy Bible had aged so well was because the album tracks were far better than the singles. He’s not wrong. Only the spiky, new wave attack of ‘Faster’ cuts through here.

This is a collection peppered with monster-hits, four of which come from 1996’s Everything Must Go, an album which seemed beautifully out of sync with the narcissistic leanings of Britpop. The band were now one member short but at their musical zenith, Spectoresque production giving depth and breath to epic songs about loss, regret, re-birth (‘Everything Must Go’) and class aspiration (‘A Design for Life’ – a worthy rival to ‘From Despair to Where’ for best song). Has anything ever sounded as sublimely simplistic and bitingly sharp as ‘Kevin Carter’, their homage to the late photographer?

It’s hard to recommend anything from fifth long-player This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, apart from number one single ‘If you Tolerate This Your Children Will be Next’. ‘You Stole the Sun from My Heart’ is easily the worst song on National Treasures. It’s all very…well…bland, the sound of a band who’d fallen out of love with what they were doing. Thank God for stand alone single ‘The Masses Against the Classes’, an aggressive, chest-beating class war beast.

From then onwards we enter the Manics’ hit ‘n’ miss period. For every ‘Ocean Spray’ there’s a ‘There by the Grace of God’ or a ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’ (I take it back about ‘You Stole….’, Nixon is a truly awful song). ‘Your Love Alone is not Enough’, featuring Nina Persson of The Cardigans, and last year’s ‘(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love’ offer a sporadic return to form and ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ ain’t half bad, but new single ‘This Is the Day’ doesn’t exactly command the listener’s attention. The Manic Street Preachers are the sort of band that thrives on turmoil. In its absence, they don’t appear to have much to say.