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If the concept of a German band with a Japanese vocalist singing in English (about half the time - all the other time Damo Suzuki is mostly inventing his own ones) doesn't sound particularly appealing to you, all I can say is I don't blame you. Forget the Grateful Dead, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Gentle Giant: Can are, undeniably, the cult group of rock music par excellence. For two reasons: (a) it is hardly possible to deny that whatever they had been doing in their prime years was music, not just vain pseudo-experimental noisemaking, and much of this music was absolutely and completely groundbreaking and preceded its time by quite a few years; and (b) I can hardly judge more than five or six percents of this music as 'rather accessible' for the general rock listener. In other words: it takes LOTS of skill and listening and bias-eliminating to enjoy this music, but once one breaks through, he'll be richly rewarded.Can were leaders and more or less founders of the whole dreadful Krautrock movement in German music - together with Eloy, Kraftwerk and lots of other less ambitious and less talented bands. Now I must say that in general, I dread German rock music. Yes, outside of Anglo-Saxon countries, Germany was probably the most successful place in the world to incorporate rock in their cultural standards (hey, Anglo-Saxon is Germanic, after all); but, roughly speaking, German guys usually take themselves way too seriously, and whereas that seriousness really works in such genres as philosophy or classical music, we all know that too much seriousness can only be an enemy to a solid rock band. Wowee, just look what happened to Yes, for instance. That's probably why Germany has been one of the most prolific suppliers of crappy heavy metal bands up to this very day; and the same thing, of course, accounts for all of the Krautrock movement - this is cold, winterish, chilling music played without a single smile; cruel and pessimistic, it gives no quarter. Be prepared for that when you put on a Can record: unless the guys are deliberately making fools of themselves, like with their hilarious deconstruction of 'Can-Can', the apocalyptic mood is what prevails - and these guys sure know how to pass on an apocalyptic mood. The music of Can, like I have already said, was absolutely groundbreaking for their time - perhaps more so than any other Seventies' bands. These guys started messing with weird electronic devices, bizarre sound textures, and lengthy, static pieces of hum-hum and drum-drum (you know what I mean, doncha?) as early as 1969, and their experimental masterpiece Tago-Mago, a record which, to a certain extent, can be said to contain every important and innovative element of rock music since the Sixties - basically, it predicts the developments of the genre to the present day - was released in 1971, a whole year before Roxy Music's debut and at least five or six years before the grand uprising of New Wave and Electronica in the rest of Europe and in the States. Needless to say, Can were hugely underrated all those years, and only recently started to get at least a little bit of respect they really deserve. One thing's for sure: without Can, there would be no Brian Eno. Without Brian Eno, there would be no New Age, no World Beat, no Peter Gabriel, no Bowie, no Talking Heads... you understand. That said, I do admit that in relation to Brian Eno Can were playing more or less the same part as, say, Elvis or Chuck Berry in relation to the Beatles. That is, while their unlimited innovation and the pioneering character of their work cannot be doubted, today their music may certainly sound dated, in a way that Brian Eno's music never will. And that's not because they were more daring and less 'conventional' than Eno: no, I would generally say that even such hard-to-access albums as Eno's Thursday Afternoon are generally more easy to digest and more spiritually uplifting than any selected record by Can. When Eno and other British electronic wizards took their due lessons from the Germans, they also 'painted' that stuff - what was earlier cold, gray and static, now became warm, coloured and... static. In other words, Eno took the skeleton of this music and fitted it to his own human soul - a bit weird, but thoroughly humanistic and living. Can never did that: their music was always dark, schizophrenic and completely uncompromising when it came to adjusting their sounds with positive human emotions. Not to mention that none of the band members ever had that incredible pop sensibility of Eno's - which explains why they never really found a mass audience outside of Germany. They did have something else, though. They had an incredible, amazing, stupendous Jamming Power. Can themselves always said that their music was based on the principle of 'geometry of people' - the band members all fitted together in a quasi-geometrically correct shape, and there were even rumours of some kind of telepathy occurring between members. Now, of course, every professional band must have its members ideally interacting with each other; yet this is the ideal, and in reality very few bands can boast such an unbelievable 'musical consensus' as Can. And this is the reason why I can often sit through an eighteen-minute jam by the band without getting a headache - hey, I can hardly endure three minutes of Yes noodling around with their chops... Lineup, now. The original Can was formed in 1968, its core being Holger Czukay - bass and Irmin Schmidt - keyboards (both were originally avant-garde classical music students, following the lessons of Stockhausen). To form a band, they enlisted Jaki Liebezeit - drums, Michael Karoli - guitar, and black American vocalist Malcolm Mooney. This lineup only recorded one entire album, after which Mooney left and was replaced by one of the most (in)famous vocalists in rock history - Japanese Damo Suzuki. The 1970-73 period, with Suzuki at the microphone, is often considered the band's golden period. Suzuki left in 1973 to become a Jehovah's Witness (fate is a bummer), with Karoli and Schmidt assuming vocal duties. Czukay left in 1977; instead, the band added two ex-Traffic (!!) members, Reebop Kwaku Bah on percussion and Rosco Gee on bass. The group disbanded in 1979. There was a brief reformation of the original Mooney lineup, though, in 1989, for exactly one album.
Listenability: 3/5. Which
is pretty good for Krautrock - they're not too hard to get into even for
Resonance: 3/5. Oh yeah. This is NOT just weird music for the sake of weirdness.
Originality: 4/5. They borrow a lot from the funk and blues-rock scene, but give it a wholly different edge.
Adequacy: 3/5. Well, it's hard to decide here. Approximate number.
Diversity: 4/5. Loads here.
Overall: 3.4 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1981Record rating = 7
This rocks a bit more than 'Monster Movie', and it's also an archive release so I'm eager to overrate it. So I'm a sucker.Best song: THIEF
Track listing: 1) Butterfly; 2) Pnoom; 3) Nineteen Century Man; 4) Thief; 5) Man Named Joe; 6) Uphill; 7) Little Star Of Bethlehem.
Not released officially until a looooong time after, this really really really shows how far German rock music had ventured as early as 1968. This is a little record packed with seven tracks that sound like raw, intentionally sloppy demos, but given that the entire Mooney period used to be like that - Can didn't really begin to build up their image of machine-men until Suzuki's arrival - it doesn't sound much different from their sole official Mooney release, Monster Movie. With one serious difference: I actually like Delay 1968 better. In retrospect, if we manage to forget the fact that Delay is "archive stuff" and Movie is "the real thing", reality will show us that it's actually, or at least it should be, vice versa.Since it was not an official release (and probably wasn't intended to be), it lacks the show-offiness clicky thing that mars a lot of records by other artists and Can themselves. You know, the lack-of-respect-for-the-public thing: "we're the artists, fuck you, we do what you wish and if you're a sissy and can't recognize true art go listen to some Frank Sinatra" and all that. In that respect, Can's 'debut album' (because yeah, I do recognize Delay as a 'debut album') presents a happy compromise between the conventional and the unconventional, and if you have any tolerance for German avantgarde (what used to be avantgarde, anyway), at all, I'm sure you'll come to agree with me. The album rocks pretty hard, too, and it's not at all funky, like Movie would be - the emphasis is more on the 'rock' or even the 'primitive rock' state of things. That's how it all begins, with the eight-minute barrage of monotonous bang-bang-bang chords from Karoli's guitar which is 'Butterfly'. Mooney immediately falls in a trance, chanting the various names of the actual butterfly and asking her to fly for what seems like ages, while Czukay's bass goes throb-throb-throb like... oh wait, we're not in the Suzuki era yet and there is no computer-style precision from the rhythm section. It's still a good preview of things to come, and Mooney is not overbearing, perhaps because you can hardly hear him at all behind the ugly (yet intriguing) guitar patterns. 'Pnoom' is just a silly dirty sax noise groove, but things really pick up some serious steam with 'Nineteenth Century Man', distinguished by first-rate riffage from Karoli and a refrain that sticks in your head as well as anything. Plus, it's a good place to witness Karoli play some 'classic rock' guitar - almost in the Fifties' style, with loads of stinging bluesy-beesy licks. And what a better way to follow it than with 'Thief', doubtlessly Mooney's high point with the band - it's about the only Can 'ballad' where I feel deeply moved and disturbed by his vocal performance. The song conveys an atmosphere of absolute, unescapable despair - not a catastrophe on the psychological level or a complete paranoid hell, which would distinguish the band's Suzuki period, but just a highly personal, deeply felt sense of evil fate and unjustice. Again, Karoli plays a simplistic, monotonous riff with a rich emotional resonance, and Mooney's hoarse whinings of 'why must I be the thief... why must I be the thief...' fit the song to a tee. Really sends shivers down my back, and I'm not sure, but this certainly could be the most depressing number of 1968, seeing as the Doors had already released their most powerful stuff a year ago. It goes slightly downhill after that, with a couple more rockers that don't sound way too unlike the stuff that preceded them. Even so, 'Man Named Joe' is very stupid, very hilarious and quite fast, too, and 'Uphill' chugs along as menacingly as anything. And again, Karoli's king on that one, starting with an ominous creaky riff and suddenly transforming it into a distortion-fest in just a few seconds (although to me it seems like he's just fiddling around with that pedal, pushing it and releasing it and pushing it again. Cool). The only real letdown is the slow plodding tempo of 'Little Star Of Bethlehem' that closes the album - for my money, this is a track that epitomizes the very idea of 'going nowhere'. It just ain't intriguing, although the lyrics might be quite fun if I were ever to make 'em out. But whatever, at least there are seven pieces on the album, and one of them ('Thief') is, or should be, a timeless classic; isn't this enough for a little recognition? Just as on Monster Movie, Karoli and Mooney form the band's center unit here - Mr Schmidt doesn't yet seem to be sure if his keyboard playing belongs in the band at all, and the rhythm section haven't yet decided on what it actually is that should distinguish them from any other potential rhythm section in the world. But they'd pick it up, eventually, and anyway, they're not at all bad. Bottomline: the album is very highly recommendable to all diehard Canners, and even if not, it's really indispensable for your rock history book. Name me a band that played like this as early as 1968. Hell, even the Mothers of Invention were nowhere near as weird, even if their stuff was a trillion times more 'complex' and 'convoluted', ah, whatever.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969Record rating = 6
Can as an avantgarde-funk band, covering the vocal excesses of Malcolm Mooney. Groundbreaking, yeah, but definitely not visionary.Best song: FATHER CANNOT YELL
Track listing: 1) Father Cannot Yell; 2) Mary, Mary So Contrary; 3) Outside My Door; 4) Yoo Doo Right.
I know it sounds kinda hypocritic - to rave about Can in the intro paragraph and open up the actual page with the review of an album which I'm frankly not too excited about. But don't worry people, great times are just around the corner. So, as you have probably already understood by the hints in the previous review, at the start of their career, Can were led (or, better to say, "teamed up with", since it's rather hard to tell who they were really "led" by) by American-born black singer Malcolm Mooney, a guy with a heavy penchant towards incomprehensible scat singing and, as it later turned out, heavy schizophrenic complexes. They were so heavy, in fact, that he had to leave the band after the very first record, and returned only much later on; but at the time we're currenlty discussing, Monster Movie deeply bears his imprint, and, while some Can fans tend to rave about this period as the band's best, I sincerely believe that this imprint was no good at all.Substantially, the basis for Can's 'classic' sound is well laid on the record. As we all know, Can's sound primarily consists of the monotonous throbbing of Czukay's bass, steady pulsation of Liebezeit's drums, frantic distortion of Karoli's guitar and technophilian bleeps of Schmidt's keyboard arrays; and all of this stuff can be found on Monster Movie in spades. There are two main problems, though, which prevent me from enjoying the album - the production and the Mooney. If my information is correct, Monster Movie was recorded in an amateurish studio, and was initially released as a home-brewed product, with only 500 copies available (it wasn't issued in the States until 1972 or so; by the way, no further proof is needed to acknowledge Can's essential 'cult' status!). Unfortunately, it shows - or maybe not it, but something else, but in any case the overall sound of the record is pretty simple, bland and devoid of the fascinating atmospherics that would predominate on Can's subsequent offerings. After a number of listens, I still think of Monster Movie as a novelty piece, a collection of disjointed grooves and jams with enough 'avantgardist' and 'innovative' potential but not a lot of emotional impact. This may be due to the fact that there are not so many various sound effects and cool instrumentation ideas as there would be in the future; or to the fact that the rhythm section, while certainly prominent, isn't overwhelming - judging from these four tracks, you can tell that Jaki Liebezeit is a solid drummer, but you're hardly left gaping at his unbelievable metronomic powers which can be amply demonstrated on later numbers, such as 'Mother Sky' or 'Halleluhwah'. And then there's Mooney. He has a nice range and his voice is mighty enough, I suppose; but much too often he prefers to go for the 'shocking' part. God knows I'm pretty tolerable towards 'weird' singing: I love Bryan Ferry, Roger Chapman, Marc Bolan (yeah, even the early albums), and, well, Damo Suzuki as well as anybody and probably better, but Mooney's extravaganzas are something that really knocks me out. In that respect, the endless jam on side 2, 'Yoo Doo Right', can really become intolerable: even if the rhythm section does everything to transform it from a repetitive, time-killing shuffle into a magical trance, Malcolm sabotages everything with his hoarse whinings. Something just doesn't click, if you know what I mean. Imagine a Nineties' Bob Dylan dying of phthisis, and you pretty much get the picture. And no, I have little against Nineties' Bob Dylan; but the problem is, 'Yoo Doo Right's music is ugly in its essence, and complementing it with Mooney's ugly dying-dog hoarsing really overdoes the trick. I suppose in general this stuff is what might be called 'avantgarde funk', something like a cross between Sly & The Family Stone, on one hand, and Frank Zappa, on the other, lightly peppered with electronic devices. But I don't like Can for the funky stuff - I'm not a big fan of funk, and while I have nothing against people trying to incorporate elements of funk in their usual patterns to diversify up the things, I do have something against people trying to incorporate elements of avantgarde in the funk pattern. Therefore, I do not agree with those who call 'Yoo Doo Right' the predecessor to Can's lengthy jam-trances; compositionally, yes, time-wise, yes, but stylistically it's almost a different planet, the one on which I wouldn't like to guest, much less rent a house. Thankfully, the first side is a tad better. It opens with a real fury of a number, the rip-roaring 'Father Cannot Yell'; Karoli's guitar is so loud and crazy on the track, and Czukay's bass pumps so fast and powerfully, that I almost can't hear Mooney's vocals at all, and so much for the better. I don't know if these guys had heard any Velvet Underground records before they recorded this, but truth is, 'Father Cannot Yell' is the German equivalent of that band's 'Sister Ray', only shorter and more intriguing. And it's really fast, a thing that gets noticed: I can't accuse Can of never playing fast, because that would be a preposterous lie, but here the speed is a factor that almost speaks for itself - 'listen to us, we're playing fast! We know how to rock, goddarnit!' Likewise, on 'Outside My Door', where Holger sets the scene with some fascinating bass riffage; if only Malcolm hadn't played the fool and, once again, spoiled everything at the end of the track where he's bellowing like a slaughtered pig, it would be the record's masterpiece. Plus, there's the band's funny take on 'Mary Mary So Contrary' - again, I wouldn't rank it among their best ballads, as the guitar tone is too rough and ungentle for the ears, and Malcolm is overdoing it again, but hell, some people think it's beautiful, and who am I to contradict. I would, however, remark that 'Deadlock' from Soundtracks is built on more or less the same structure (slow drum-based shuffle with overwhelming waves of Karoli's desperate feedback wailings), and it's tons more skilled and expert, and it also has Suzuki. So - sorry to upset the legend, guys, but Can were not great from the very beginning. I would be the last person in the world to negate the revolutionary character of Monster Movie (fun title - it doesn't sound like a monster movie at all); but facts are facts, this record has dated far worse than any other from Can's 'golden years'. Regard it as the 'treacherous first step', or, if you want a classy metaphor, as a rocket-carrier that completes its functions bydropping its contents onto the orbit, then blows up.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970Record rating = 10
The band in full flight. As shocking, yet perversely enjoyable today, as it was thirty years ago.Best song: DEADLOCK
Track listing: 1) Deadlock; 2) Tango Whiskyman; 3) Deadlock (Titelmusic); 4) Don't Turn The Light On, Leave Me Alone; 5) Soul Desert; 6) Mother Sky; 7) She Brings The Rain.
To say 'gruesomely underrated' of this album is to say nothing. I mean, nobody ever really dismisses it, but for the most part Soundtracks are lightly patted on the head and people say something like 'okay, the boys were only about warming up, just getting up right to do it'. Bullshit. Of course, not each and every track on here should rate as the Cream of the Can, but based on the criterium of (a) consistency and (b) accessibility, this is easily the best Can album ever, and certainly the best place to start with the band if you don't want to get immediately turned off of the band with stuff like 'Aumgn' or the like.I suppose that there are two main reasons for such criminal negligence. First, it's indeed a soundtrack album: Irmin Schmidt was closely connected to German cinema industry, and in the early days Can often made a living by supplying film producers with their moody melodies and sound collages. And as far as I may judge, soundtracks are usually considered a 'lower' category of music - which is absolutely not justified, since there are soundtracks and soundtracks (in this way, critical opinion has bypassed my beloved Dylan soundtrack, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid). The soundtracks of Can can be easily enjoyed without their actual movie connotations - hey, I've never seen these movies, for one, and wouldn't really want to. Moreover, Can never wrote soundtracks after seeing the movie - they preferred to write the music first, and the film to be thought of afterwards... Second, Soundtracks catches the band in a moment of transition - they have just been left by Mooney, so the album is a mixed bag, featuring Malcolm on two of the cuts and the new vocalist, the famous Japanese busker Damo Suzuki, on four (there's also a short instrumental version of the two-minute theme from 'Deadlock'). But the transition was in no way a painful one, and Suzuki feels totally at home with the band from the very beginning - rumours have it that he actually played his first gig with the band the very day they met him outside a cafe. Moreover, Suzuki's tracks on the album are by far superior to Malcolm's - and show the definite direction that Can's music has now taken. In fact, 'Soul Desert', one of the two Mooney-voiced compositions on here, is the only track I sometimes actively dislike: as was already evident on the previous record, the band's grim, steady, throbbing progressions simply don't fit in with Malcolm's paranoid, near-rabid hoarse screams and grunts. My throat begins to ache each time I hear him plow through the 'sou... sou... sou... soul...' mantras as if he were vomiting out the words. I mean, Can was never pleasant music, but it always had enough taste not to be offensive - in a way that Captain Beefheart often loved to tease his audiences. This time, Mooney goes to far. Down with Mooney, welcome Damo. And Damo states his arrival with a bang - or should we say a blur? From the first notes of blaring feedback from Karoli's guitar that introduces the vocal version of 'Deadlock' opening the album, you're in for a real treat - the soaring, incredibly powerful, gripping guitar and Damo's strained, desperate vocalization make this a real highlight and one of the most paranoid, spooky, and emotionally devastating numbers in the entire Can catalog. Don't even try to understand the words that Mr Suzuki is singing - remember that sometimes he doesn't sing in any distinguishable language at all, and when he sings in English, he makes the vocals so mumbly and blurry that it would take a spectrum analyzer to decipher at least small parts of it. I have a theory that he was just ashamed of his accent, which is why he never spelled anything out distinctly, but in the long run it only worked out as a favourable treat: these mumbles and blurs are the ideal accompaniment to Can's greyish, monotonous, brain-pounding rhythms and transcendental solos. What's so incredibly fascinating about all of these tracks is how excellently they manage to combine experimentation, innovativeness and weird sound textures with catchiness. There are beautiful melodies all over the place - and since the main point is to choose a groove and stick to it to death, these melodies can't help but embed themselves in your head on the very first listen. Like I said, 'Deadlock' is the high emotional point, almost cathartic in its bleeding wailings; but 'Tango Whiskyman' is no slouch either, generally sounding like a gentle folk ballad, but peppered with Liebezeit's ethnic percussion and, of course, rendered completely 'alien-style' by Damo's vocals. Then there's 'Don't Turn The Light On Leave Me Alone'. I adore that number. It's creepy as hell - everything about it, starting from more ethnic percussion, continuing with Czukay's cold bassline, and, of course, these funny, accent-full, yet shiver-sending vocals: 'don't turn the right on reave me arone'... But where on earth can you find a spooky song that would also be so gripping, so memorable, that it would make you feel so fidgety and bob your head and shake your whole body in response to the paranoid vibration of the rhythm? And, of course, do not forget the magnum opus of the record - the fourteen-minute long 'Mother Sky'. It opens the series of classic Can jams: depending on such things, you're either a diehard fan for life or just an ordinary bypasser. And me? It would probably be an exaggeration to say that I love this thing to death. I don't. But it's undoubtedly one of the most space-deserving jams on the planet, simply because I can't get enough of that rhythm section - darn it, I'll go ahead and say it: the best friggin' rhythm section on Earth. That is, if we count 'strict rhythm' sections, not the kind of rhythm sections that struggle to take the place of lead guitar, like the Who or Cream, which is an entirely different matter. Personally, I have never ever heard a drummer so tight, so self-assured, so steady and fantastically precise as dear Jaki Liebezeit: I suppose I could just go ahead and listen to him going 'THUD-a-thud-a-THUD-a-thud-a-THUD-a-thud-a-THUD...' for all of these fourteen minutes even if there weren't any other instruments at all, not to mention that the great percussion rhythms which he produces somewhere around 5:30 to 6:30 are worth an additional point to the album rating alone. But that's not all: Czukay shows his great mastery of the bass as well, holding the rhythm steadily, and later diversifying the standard rhythm, sometimes playing in unison to the guitar and sometimes imitating Suzuki's main vocal melody. Add to this some blistering guitar solos, the incredible skill at raising tension throughout and especially the ultra-clever mix: the instruments never mingle with each other, so that at any given time you may follow either the drums, or the bassline, or the guitar, or the keyboards, whatever. And now go on and tell me that the jam isn't really breathtaking. It is, and more than that - you should look to 'Mother Sky' for practically everything innovative that's been happening in instrumental compositions since. Roxy Music's 'Bogus Man' would be impossible without stuff like that. And - after the storm, the calm: we fizzle out with another Mooney tune, the strangely normal jazz-pop composition 'She Brings The Rain'. Normal is the word - it will leave you gaping and wanting to check the CD for errors: the tune might have easily been recorded by any of the jazz greats. But what a groovier and weirder way to end the record than to end it with something so normal and mainstreamish? Not to mention that the tune itself is beautiful as well. In all, I'd just like to emphasize one more time that this album is not only a must for every Can fan, it might as well be a very good place to start your Can collection with. Frankly, the band is always recognized for Tago-Mago, but as great as that album is, after Soundtracks it couldn't even hope to be half as groundbreaking as it's often depicted. There's a very subdued synthesizer presence on Soundtracks, and there's far fewer unabashed dementia, too; but for the newer fan, this will be more of a blessing than a disappointment. For me, too, by the way - I seriously think that when it comes to actual music, Soundtracks is far more rewarding than Tago-Mago.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971Record rating = 9
Celebration of insanity epitomised - but you have to be prepared for this kind of thing.Best song: HALLELUHWAH
Track listing: 1) Paperhouse; 2) Mushroom; 3) Oh Yeah; 4) Halleluhwah; 5) Aumgn; 6) Peking O; 7) Bring Me Coffee Or Tea.
Undoubtedly this record, and none else, is the foundation and true and veritable basis of the Can legend. And yeah - its immense historical significance can hardly be overrated. Like I said, the music of Can predicted nearly every new musical genre ever to emerge out of the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, and this is most evident on the example of Tago-Mago. Electronic, industrial, techno, New Age, even rap, you name it, there's a little bit of everything in this package. Even more important, if 'schizophrenic music' is what you're looking for, look no further. The album cover is very indicative: for me, it stands like a visual equivalent of a person 'blowing his brains out', and that's what the band is doing here for about seventy minutes (yes, the record was a double one, although now it is luckily available on just a single CD edition). After sitting through this thing just once, I almost laughed my pants off - hey, there actually are people who think Pink Floyd's 'On The Run' is schizophrenic! Now I don't really like to resort to this kind of comparisons, but Pink Floyd's 'On The Run' is just little child games compared to the paranoid onslaught of 'Peking 0' or 'Mushroom'. Of course, I cannot guarantee that Tago-Mago was originally thought of as a 'conceptual' album dedicated to the themes of madness, as it's a regular thing to write something hugely experimental first and think of a suitable interpretation afterwards; but then again, 'On The Run' was deemed to be about paranoia only after the synth pattern in question had been established, not before. So I guess it's all a matter of scholastics.So why only a 9? Because it's inconsistent. In a historical perspective, Tago-Mago is a solid 10 and Can's greatest breakthrough ever; but if the historic perspective is not taken into account, Soundtracks turn out to be generally more enjoyable and artistically valid. It's not that I'm against song lengths or anything (the side-long 'Halleluhwah' is actually the best thing on the record); it's just that Can weren't really able to hold their solid groove throughout two entire LPs. So the whole third side is dedicated to a seventeen-minute long opus called 'Aumgn' which, frankly speaking, does absolutely nothing for me. Yes, I understand that nobody was busy with such manic, mind-blowing sonic collages like these at the time: these seventeen minutes are filled to the brim with swooping synth noises, weird, dissonant guitar solos, and thousands of futuristic sound effects that would later be tamed and put to better use by British electronica masters. But there is one thing that I value above all in Can: the rhythmic pulsation. Jaki Liebezeit is mostly either absent on the track or not playing any kinds of rhythm at all, and as a result 'Aumgn' is one of the rare cases of a completely atonal mess in Can's catalog. And, frankly speaking, you really don't need to be in a superprofessional German rock band to be able to perform this kind of noise-making. Likewise, 'Peking 0' does little for me as well: the most distinctive thing about it is that Damo Suzuki is finally unleashed - he acts like a complete freak, spewing forth maniacal stream-of-conscience jets of disconnected words, sometimes in English, but mostly just lightning-speed gibberish. But he doesn't do that for the whole eleven minutes that the song lasts, and I must say that if he did, I would get upset as well, so there's really no way I could like the, ahem, 'tune'. Which really leaves thirty minutes overboard! And still, I give the album a nine, just because all the other numbers are so wildly and pleasantly ecstatic. A bit of a warning, though: even if the rest of the album is undeniably 'music', it's much harder to sit through and assimilate than Soundtracks. The melodies are far more complicated, if existent, and for the most part your attention must focus itself on the hard-hitting rhythm section and the looney Mr Suzuki; the guitars are wailing and screaming just as effectively as they did in 'Deadlock' or 'Don't Turn The Light On', but now they are no longer interlocking into catchy melodies. From now on, it's atmosphere and sound textures that matter - I can't even imagine what the sheetnote to 'Halleluhwah' could have looked like. The album opens with 'Paperhouse', a nice prelude and 'taster' of things to come - starting out slow and dreamy, then picking up steam and speeding up towards a faster, more paranoid groove. Nowhere near as cathartic as 'Deadlock', but just as spooky and brain-muddling - until it suddenly transforms into 'Mushroom', often defined as the ultimate Can song. It's a short, four-minute masterpiece: underpinned by Jaki's quiet, but steady, unnerving rhythm pattern, it rolls along at a snail pace, with Damo's vocals going from his patented slow ununderstandable mumble to vicious screaming and Karoli's guitars adopting a slightly psychedelic tone, 'Mushroom' may not be the ultimate Can song, but it's certainly the ultimate anthem to madness I ever heard. Then we are subjected to a faster groove, more in the mood of 'Mother Sky': 'Oh Yeah''s seven minutes are easily digestible, with the main auxiliary factors being, again, Jaki's drumming - he's playing strictly 4/4, as far as I understand, but what a steady hand holds these drumsticks! - , Suzuki's intoxicating, dreary vocalization (and I understand that the first, well, 'verses' are reproduced backwards), and Schmidt's moody, drooning synthesizers. What a groove, man. But my favourite is easily 'Halleluhwah', the magnum opus of the record. Its eighteen minutes completely dominate the second side of the album, and while some probably will think that it's kinda hard to sustain the tension for eighteen minutes, I don't care. Jaki's definitely 'da man' on that one: no 4/4 beats this time, instead there's a dreadfully complicated rhythmic pattern that he somehow manages to hold up for what seems an eternity - with just one short break in the middle. Without these enthralling, amazing drumbeats the song would have degenerated into another noise-celebration a la 'Aumgn', but it doesn't: Jaki gives the other band members an excellent launchpad which they explore to its full potential. It all seems like a frightening, terrifying journey through the darkest corners of your mind, with screeching guitars, violins, organs and other instruments all over the place; and the powerful build-up of the sound in the last minutes, when the synths propel everything to an apocalyptic climax is easily comparable with the sonic build-ups employed on the Doors' 'The End'. Eighteen minutes of monotonous, same sounding music, yes; but it just so happens that I really can't get tired of that one, no matter how I try. Just bypass the psychedelic messy collages that I've described above, and let us skip right to the final track, 'Bring Me Coffee Or Tea': another Can classic, and a perfectly acceptable album closer. It's just as dangerous-sounding as everything else on the album, but it's slightly moodier and softer than everything else: the percussion is light and inobtrusive, the guitars drone as if in a lethargic sleep, and Suzuki assumes the intonation of a Buddhist monk chanting mantras: slow, dreamy, slightly complaintive, and completely relaxed. It's as if we were finally letting go and relaxing ourselves after the tiring, disturbing journey 'through dark heat'. The song does get some extra driving power towards the end, though, when all the instruments become louder and more 'desperate', thus giving us a hint that darkness and disturbance will always be darkness and disturbance and we will never escape them. Yeah. Normally I dislike this kind of records, of course, and I can easily see people condemning this stuff; but avant-garde or no avant-garde, this is simply great music full of imagery and all kinds of specific connotations. And if you don't see the connotations, just dig in to the rhythms - 'Halleluhwah' obviously proves that an ultra-great rhythm section is easily the most important thing for a rock band. And if you can't dig in to the rhythms, just think about all the innumerable genres that Tago-Mago spawned and all the innumerable people that it inspired and respect it if only for this fact.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972Record rating = 8
Can loosen their grip on us, at the same time deepening and broadening the sound. Ain't spooky - just entangled.Best song: SING SWAN SONG
Track listing: 1) Pinch; 2) Sing Swan Song; 3) One More Night; 4) Vitamin C; 5) Soup; 6) I'm So Green; 7) Spoon.
In their prime, Can used to never repeat the same record twice; and Ege Bamyasi is definitely different from Tago-Mago, which is good and bad at the same time. Good, because who wants another Tago-Mago? The original, minus the stupid collages, was so good it'd hardly be possible to top it. Bad, because this particular direction isn't the best of all possible ones. Now wait, you won't actually hear me complaining about this one; it's a prime album, and it's fascinating to witness the band in full flight once again. It's just that, coming off the peak of the previous two records, Can were unable to make another one that would stand up to the same highest standards. Such things happen.Listening to Ege, you almost feel that the band has finally climbed out of its tight electronic pants and is playing now with the same verve, but in a more relaxed, loose style. For the most part, this is due to Mr Liebezeit's shift in technique: he doesn't play the immaculate robot any more and 'humanizes' his drum patterns. I mean, they are precise and complex as usual; but this time around, he allows himself to syncopate and even to swing, loosening the grip on the general groove. This doesn't exactly contribute towards the album's effectiveness - nowhere does he really knock you out of your chair as he used to on, say, 'Halleluhwah' or even the simpler 'Mother Sky'. On the other hand, this 'looseness', coupled with Jaki's increasing love for ethnic polyrhythms, gives the album an entirely different flair. Tago Mago was all schizophrenic and mentally disturbed; Bamyasi is just 'dark'. 'Dark', but not 'sick': it's Eastern-type and African-type darkness, with odd voodoo chants and slow Asian mantras and stuff like that. And did I even notice that this is a 'conceptual' album? Yup, it's really based on the can of okra you can easily contemplate on the cover. Just consider the titles: 'Vitamin C', 'Soup', 'I'm So Green'... Some critics make this a good excuse for talking about some kind of 'organic sound' on the record, but that's a rather frivolous analogy, if you ask me - unless you really count these spooky mystical chants as 'organic' ones. Actually, the sound is nowhere near as breathtaking as the one on Tago-Mago; Karoli's guitar is generally subdued on the album, as he restricts his playing to isolated, sharp and poignant lines rather than thunderstorming the audiences with full-front sonic assaults. Suzuki, on the other hand, is far more prominent: he is trying to take the place of the band's main attraction, adding his vocals to almost everything. Funny enough, he hardly succeeds in his quest: the 'assault-and-retreat' tactics of his singing as evidenced on 'Mushroom' has disappeared, giving place to the 'baffling mumbling' effect. This results in his voice slowly fading and melting away into the background way too often. And second time around, the crazy non-existent language scat doesn't seem so interesting. Nevertheless, the band is still enthralling - and at least none of the tracks are sonic collages. Rhythms abound on here, slower, faster, simpler, more complex; no stupid four-fours, in their stead comes Africa and Near East and Far East and God knows what else. This all leaves place just for one single, short moment of subdued aethereal beauty: the wonderful 'Sing Swan Song', a moody, hypnotic ballad beginning with the sounds of running water and featuring Damo at his most gentle and beautiful. It's not exactly original: it borrows the 'beauty-in-feedback' elements from 'Deadlock' and the 'muddled-charm-of-the-morning' elements from 'Bring Me Coffee Or Tea'. But it's also far more subtle than both of these songs, and thus may contain far more hidden connotations. Everything else is - pulse, pulse and p-u-l-s-e again. 'Pinch' is nervous and fidgety, in fact, far too nervous for the general tone of the album: a necessary link from Tago-Mago, I suppose. Jaki is the hero, but one should also pay attention to Karoli's work if one is able to hear it: the guitar is shoved into the background, so as not to distract us from Damo's mutterings and squeals, I suppose, but it's good. Get this one in headphones. 'One More Night' is softer, but not very interesting drums-wise; five minutes of hypnotic dance-trance muzak. Damo saves it with the hoarse whispers in the second part - and at least, it sure is atmospheric. Things really pick up starting from the 'conceptual' side of the concept. 'Vitamin C' has Jaki immersing us into the sea of paranoid rhythms once again - just when you thought the guy really lost interest in all these unimaginable polyrhythms, there he goes again. And a funny sidenote: Damo sings the 'Hey you!' part of the chorus exactly as it would be sung in Pink Floyd's 'Hey You' seven years later. What a bummer. 'Soup', the record's centerpiece, comes next; this is probably Can's most complex, multi-part composition up to date, and it fully deserves a classic status. Just imagine, it goes from a really slow, lethargic piece in the beginning, crashes into a frenzied drum/guitar/vocals assault (fiercest guitar on the album), gets exceedingly quiet, and then turns into something truly apocalyptic. Yeah, 5:24 into the song and something gruesome happens - it is a bunch of noise, but it puts to shame all the noise in 'Augmn'. Simply put, this is the scariest bunch of electronic feedback I've ever heard: like a computerized Hendrix gone completely berserk. This is where Schmidt is completely unleashed: he pumps out sounds the likes of which Roger Waters couldn't even have dreamt of in his sleep. I don't know if they are destined to visualize the boiling process of a soup, but to me, sounds more like a volcano erupting. One hot soup this is, definitely not a Campbell's. Suzuki's pseudo-Spanish wails are worth a couple of laughs, too. And the record leaves us with a couple of short numbers - 'I'm So Green' and 'Spoon'. The latter is particularly worth noticing because it is bridging an epoch. It can be easily described as psychedelic, with obvious Indian influences (all it really needs is a sitar to make things look more authentic); but it's also electronic, with trademark Schmidt bleeps and beeps. A perfect ending for such a controversial, uneven, deeply disturbing record. Okay, not as deeply as Tago-Mago; but you gotta give the guys their due - Ege Bamyasi is yet another step forward in their evolution. Keywords: 'organic', 'polyrhythmic', 'tribal', 'voodoo', 'dark', 'mystical, but far from the generic game 'Let's Pretend We're So Very Psychic''. Let it just grow on you. Like okra. And I've never even tasted okra. Maybe that's why I'm still so far away from guessing the meaning of life.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973Record rating = 9
Can reinvent themselves as cosmic futurists, making one of the best proto-ambient records of its time.Best song: BEL AIR
Track listing: 1) Future Days; 2) Spray; 3) Moonshake; 4) Bel Air.
Some regard this as Can's finest forty minutes, and it's easy to see why. Future Days prompted a true revolution in the Can camp, and maybe even a bigger one than the one achieved with the arrival of Suzuki. This was a period ripe with invention and progress, and each subsequent Can album left the others far behind. If Tago-Mago was proclaiming the power of paranoia and Ege Bamyasi ventured into the ethnic and the occult, then Future Days, the last part of the glorious Suzuki trilogy, breaks the boundaries beyond mundane and cosmic.An apt title indeed: the music on this album is futuristic and sounds completely otherworldly. The biggest surprise is that the band doesn't even have to resort to wild sonic experimentation to do that; there are noises and bunches of special effects all over the record, but they're never placed at the centre - this is music, not noise, and music achieved through quite traditional means - same lineup, same basic instrumentation. One major distinction is that on Future Days no band member can be said to overshadow another one: the band is really playing as a band. Any solo passages tend to be rather short and not particularly impressive; this is Can in its true jamming essence, as a community of equals. In that respect, it should be noted that the one band member who's particularly out of place on the record is... Damo Suzuki. He contributes some nice singing on most of the numbers, but it's like he crept into the studio silently late at night and ad libbed his singing so that the others wouldn't notice - it sounds so... well, not exactly out of place, because it fits in well with the sound, but it does sound rather unnecessary. This could have easily been instrumental music: the vocals don't make an essential part of the sonic experience any more. Which is only too natural: Suzuki's singing was quintessential for the band in their 'kings of the dark side of the mind' image, when his vocal noises were one of the main attractions. But 'cosmic music'? It's instrumental par excellence, and Suzuki couldn't help but be out of place. No wonder he quit after this album. Anyway, time to talk about the songs. The first side has three 'short' compositions: the title track and 'Spray' both go over eight minutes, and 'Moonshake' finishes the album on an inspired three-minute note. It's all perfectly valid and brilliantly written background music (yeah, I utter that word-combination with the highest respect) that really gives you the... wait a minute. I wanted to say 'the creeps', but then I caught myself on the thought that it doesn't. It's very nice music, actually - strange, not always too comfortable, sometimes disturbing, but definitely not too dark or creepy. Can are getting happier and more 'lightweight', if I dare say so. The title track starts with a few noises, as if representing the peaceful flora and fauna of that other world we're going to get transferred to in a minute, and then Jaki kicks in with a gentle percussion shuffle (one more innovation - Jaki never pounds or kicks on this album, and tries to be steady and near unnoticeable at the same time), while Schmidt and Karoli alternate short minimalistic synth/guitar passages and Suzuki sings the anthemic lyrics. The track itself gives one the feeling of being slowly transported through time and space - yeah, somewhere there up above, slowly and gently, while having the opportunity to look down upon the ground and witness all the tiny creatures running around busy with their daily activities. 'Spray', however, has us already landed and taking the first steps through this mysterious universe - it's a bit chaotic for a person used to Can's normal debacles, but all the tasty synth bleeps and bloops ("hey, don't step into that puddle - can't you see it's dripping acid?") and relaxating guitar passages compensate. This is the most disturbing piece on the whole album, but it's still not that disturbing. I mean, when you play some alien-action computer game and you get to an unknown planet, you're scared, right? Even if there ain't no actual menace around, everything just looks so unreal and frightening because it's unusual. That's exactly the feel that 'Spray' is supposed to convey, and it does. 'Moonshake' is just a short three-minute throwback to the past - it doesn't really fit in well with the overall mood of the album, but it doesn't spoil the flow either. Just a steady upbeat poppy tune with some brass thrown in and one of the freakiest instrumental breaks either, when the entire "solo" consists of Schmidt making all kinds of various noises with his synths. The song's truly worth it for the instrumental break alone. But the album's magnum opus is, of course, the twenty-minute multi-part suite 'Bel Air' that occupies the entire second side. This one's a masterpiece - maybe not from beginning to end, but at least on the overall level. If 'Future Days' had you arriving to the new world and 'Spray' was the first timid acquaintance with its wonders and mysteries, then 'Bel Air' - as I see it - is the celebration of the New World's beauty and newly-found glory. I can't make out a single word from what Suzuki is singing, but he does it beautifully, and the first part of the suite is perhaps the most gorgeous bit of Can music to be found, with swooping grandiose synths and those gentle waves of Suzuki's voice that define beauty. Later on, the suite goes through several different grooves and tempos, but you don't really notice the passing of time because the music is very static and panoramic: time is almost standing for the listener, only activating itself at the change of sections. Then, somewhere in the middle, the music is suddenly interrupted by the chirping of birds and humming of insects, from which it is slowly 'resurrected' with more soothing and delicate ambience. Describing these things is dang near impossible; you just gotta hear it in all of its loveliness. I wouldn't even recommend to listen to this as actual music to be listened to - it's definitely 'proto-ambient' stuff, much more so than any music written previously, and should be taken together with something. Playing this on your turntable along to some computer strategy game wouldn't hurt, I think. Then again, I did listen to this album specially, and I found it just as pleasant as in any particular context, so it's all a matter of habit. I guess. I mean, if Brian Eno ever took some direct cues from somewhere, it's gotta be Future Days.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974Record rating = 7
A quiet, mystical journey through a 'magic night'. Well... I guess.Best song: DIZZY DIZZY
Track listing: 1) Dizzy Dizzy; 2) Come Sta, La Luna; 3) Splash; 4) Chain Reaction; 5) Quantum Physics.
1974 saw huge changes in both Can's lineup and Can's stylistics - once again. After the release of Future Days, Damo Suzuki suddenly decided to quit the band and join Jehovah's Witnesses (he did have a moderate musical career afterwards, and even had something like a solo album, I think - not to mention serving as prototypical hero to the Fall who released their 'tribute', 'I Am Damo Suzuki', in 1985). I do not know if it was his departure that prompted Can to somewhat change their stylistics or not, but in any case, it's obvious that Soon Over Babaluma doesn't suffer much from Damo's departure simply because its music is no longer compatible with Damo's paranoid mutterings. Well, actually the music was no longer compatible with his mutterings already on Future Days, so it's no big surprise. From now on, the regular members of the band would provide all the vocals themselves.Because the music itself is going further and further away from the 'paranoid' style of the days of yore. Soon Over Babaluma (a parody on 'Moon Over Alabama', by the way) can in a certain way be judged as Can's answer to Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, and as a natural precursor to Brian Eno's Another Green World. Future Days started Can's 'visionary' period, the period of music that leans towards 'cosmic' rather than 'psychic', and this album continues the trend. The music, in fact, ideally suits the beautiful album cover: it's a 'night' album, with all the instruments very quiet and the guitars, violins and keyboards rarely going over the level of 'hush hush'. That's not to say that the record will put you to sleep, though: there is a lot of musical action and dynamics happening in between, you just have to give yourself in completely in order to understand and appreciate it. The first two compositions on the album are, in fact, not any less marvelous than anything Can ever did before. 'Dizzy Dizzy' is bouncy and disturbing: Jaki sets a light, shuffling rhythm with his percussion, Holger's bassline is steady, pulsating and immaculate, as usual, Irmin lightly bleeps in the background, and Karoli dresses up the rhythm in otherworldly, alien-sounding violin solos. Plus, Karoli overdubs his humming and occasional muffled singing all over the place, with the line 'dizzy dizzy dizzy' repeated over and over again. And that's what you get: this constant throb-throb-throbbing of the rhythm and the monotonous, repetitive, spiralling construction of the words and the violin passages will have your head spinning round in no time - as if you're cruising round the moon or something. 'Come Sta La Luna' is hardly any worse, though - just not as immediately shocking as its predecessor. It has an obvious Latin influence, but, of course, it's much more than just a Latin number; it's a Can-processed Latin number, which means you'll have a weird Irmin Schmidt vocal, an enthralling Liebezeit drum pattern, and a mystical, cosmic feel to it. If 'Dizzy Dizzy' had you cruising around the moon, 'Come Sta La Luna' has you actually venturing out into space and examining the moon from a short distance. No wonder - the title should be translated as 'How do you do, Moon?' from Italian. Unfortunately, none of the other three compositions ever come close to matching the mystical, innovative power of these first two, which is why the album gets a relatively low rating. I can hardly get moved by 'Splash', because on that one the band unexplainably decides to choose a rather simple, well-explored rhythmic pattern (don't know it's name, but it's the same one as used on, say, the Doors' 'Touch Me'), and just play generic guitar and keyboard solos along to it for seven minutes. It isn't even atmospheric - and it doesn't even move my imagination. It's fast and bouncy enough, I suppose, so it won't really lull anybody, but it's also kinda pointless and is perhaps one of the most dangerous indicators of worse things to come. In that respect, 'Chain Reaction', the lengthiest opus on the record, is somewhat more successful, but I'm sorry to say that the rhythmic pattern that the band has set out to explore this time has been previously used by none other than the Rolling Stones on Their Satanic Majesties' Request. Can do it with more verve, of course, and parts of the composition (especially those parts when they suddenly change the tempo and paste a piece with a completely different time signature, more jazzy and even with small elements of catchiness) are really solid, but in general, the composition never really 'achieves ignition', as they say in dear old Rolling Stone. Which, by the way, was kind enough to mention Can on their site, but not kind enough to actually analyze their music. Perhaps they're afraid of German rock, too. Oh, well. Maybe it's all for the better. The album ends with 'Quantum Physics' - a track that is said to presage ambient music, and I fully agree. I mean, if 'Come Sta La Luna' and 'Dizzy Dizzy' presage the more intelligent aspects of disco (if there are any), then 'Quantum Physics' got to presage ambient, right? Eight minutes, and not a darn thing happening - just atmospheric synth thrills, occasional drumbursts from Jaki (yeah, he's actually playing real drum fills and almost holding down some sort of syncopated rhythm here - funny how the man always manages to draw my attention even when he doesn't really seem to be going for it). I quite enjoy listening to this stuff, actually - lush sonic landscape, and really gets me to feel like I'm walking on the moon. (No, no, this doesn't presage the Police. The Police did it differently). So, while the album is really hit and miss, the general impression I get out of it is very good. A fact is a fact: in 1974, Can were still willing to experiment and, want it or not, they were still way ahead of their contemporaries. Shifting their style was a plus. Moving towards ambient textures was a plus. Developing the 'cosmic vibe' was a plus. Playing boring recycled jams was a minus, of course, but hey, we're all humans. They just didn't have that much ideas this time. But doesn't the gorgeous album cover fully redeem them? It's even better than the one on Tales From Topographic Oceans!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975Record rating = 7
Pretty rocking, but nowhere near as unique as their previous offerings.Best song: VERNAL EQUINOX
Track listing: 1) Full Moon On The Highway; 2) Half Past One; 3) Hunters And Collectors; 4) Vernal Equinox; 5) Red Hot Indians; 6) Unfinished.
Listening to Landed really makes me wonder - can bands and their importance really be measured by the time period they remain on the 'cutting edge'? On each and every one of their albums (at least, the ones I've heard) up to Babaluma, Can were always well ahead of their peers, predicting avantgarde, electronica, New Wave, disco, club music, New Age, and God only knows what. Landed, then, is really the first Can record that has the masters repeating themselves and not really breaking any serious new ground. No wonder that this is often judged by fans as the beginning of the 'downwards slide': from now on, Can would slowly begin drifting to the sad state of affairs that is often described by the term 'residing on past glories'. Amazingly, this period would also probably be Can's most accessible, with their numbers tending to get more 'poppy' and the actual songs more structured and disciplined. Not that Can ever managed to make it to the mainstream, of course: they did place a couple of minor successes on the charts in the mid-Seventies, but their music was still way too bizarre and dangerous-sounding to be accepted even by the punk and New Wave-loving public. Still, if you're new to the band and already scared shitless of Damo Suzuki, Landed would be an excellent place to get acquainted with Can's techniques, and it certainly deserves more than the miserable two stars the All-Music Guide gave it (without even offering any review! Man, I just don't get these guys).Like I said, Landed is not a terribly innovative album - but it is somewhat more consistent than Babaluma, even if there are no such obvious highlights as 'Dizzy Dizzy' or 'Come Sta La Luna'. There is one serious defect here, though: I don't really feel the power of the rhythm section. This probably has something to do with the fact that from now on, Can were experimenting with multitracking and no longer relying on the powerful jamming improvisations (you know, the 'Mother Sky' type) which Czukay would tamper with only later on. Jaki's drumming and Holger's basslines are still immaculate, but they don't provide the obvious backbone of the sound, often mixed too low and sounding too muffled. The main heroes of Landed are Karoli and Schmidt: the former turns most of the songs into ferocious guitar workouts (indeed, this record got to rate as Karoli's peak with the band), while the latter drenches everything in crazyass electronic thunderstorms. The album thus rocks harder than anything the band ever did before, and the level of energy on Landed is on an unprecedented level: therefore, one may say that even if Can aren't revolutionizing music here, they're at least true to their image of constant change - whoever would imagine Can as a hard-rocking band? And yet, as soon as the first notes of 'Full Moon On The Highway' hit your speakers, the answer is obvious: Karoli is in control, overdubbing several loud, distorted guitar patterns over the frenzied rhythm of the number. He also takes lead vocals (here and on all the other vocal numbers), while the rest of the band chant 'FULL MOON ON THE HIGHWAY!' processed through what seems like an entire battle array of Vocoders and stuff. In sum, the song is just an old-fashioned fast hard rock number, given an electronic treatment, but it's tremendous fun (if fun is the right word for something so atmospheric and creepy that it reeks of a cross between Hieronimus Bosch and Francis Koppola). The other three vocal numbers are somewhat lighter, all built according to one pattern: weirdness, weirdness and... weirdness. Think routine pop songs, with singing changed to mumbling and muttering, normal rock guitars changed to fuzzy grumbling undertones, tinkly pianos changed to astral electronic hummings, and 4/4 beats changed to all kinds of ethnic percussion style. Yup, I know you'll want to ask me if all the above-described elements have anything to do with 'routine pop songs'. But truthfully, can't you sense that the melody of, say, 'Hunters And Collectors', is a cleverly disguised pop melody? It is, at least when it comes to the refrain. And 'Red Hot Indians', for some strange reason, reminds me of the San Francisco scene, although that might be due to the 'Krishna dancing' line in there. In any case, it's not that these melodies are great in the first place: all the three numbers are fairly monotonous and their stylistics isn't too varied - the only difference is made by Olaf Kubler's rousing tenor saxophon solos on 'Red Hot Indians'. Well, who cares, there's still the heat and the beat... And, of course, there's 'Vernal Equinox'. What can be said about that one? A near-masterpiece. Even if the title is not very telling (the song is more 'heavy' than 'atmospheric'), listening to it can't help sending your head into a frenzied, abrasive whirl that never stops. Karoli and Schmidt's duet in the beginning of the song, when the first one plays some blazing proto-metal solos and the latter 'answers' him with a stunning synth onslaught, sounds indeed like the battle of two ambitious giants, never knowing when to stop and not caring either. And towards the middle of the song, our old friends the rhythmers are remembered again: Liebezeit plays a wild, lightning-speed drum pattern that would suffice alone to place him in the upper league of rock drummers, while Czukay displays his bass chops in full force, playing fluent, unstoppable lines like he's the new Entwistle or something. In all, the band fully compensates for the lack of innovation by displaying its energy potential unmatched before or since - it's almost as if the lumbering bear broke his sleep and showed the world that he's got some teeth sticking out, too. Unfortunately, the band had to frig it up even here: the final (and the lengthiest) number on record, 'Unfinished', is just a thirteen-minute long mess of astral noises, feedback and disorganized, dissonant percussion stomps in the finest tradition of King Crimson (and Can's own 'Augmn' - but hey, at least 'Augmn' could be called innovative). At this point in their career, tracks like these were already nothing but unnecessary rubbish: all the future electronic music makers had already been inspired enough by stuff like No Pussyfooting to even notice this stuff. And, of course, today it's just unlistenable - 'dated' is too kind a word. Without 'Unfinished' (which indeed sounds like it is), that only makes for about twenty-five solid musical minutes, and Lord knows I couldn't give this one more than a seven. And it's really a weak seven, as opposed to Babaluma's exceptionally high one; but 'Vernal Equinox' is great, and Lord also knows I have to give Can some tribute for going out on a limb and making a 'bizarre hard rock' record. Okay, so perhaps it was kinda groundbreaking after all. Problem is, Eno had already been around with his solo albums for three years now...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976Record rating = 6
A rag-tag collection of rag-taggy segments. Cut and paste and cut and paste. So cut it!Best song: IBIS
Track listing: 1) Gomorrha; 2) Doko E; 3) LH 7o2; 4) I'm Too Leise; 5) Musette; 6) Blue Bag; 7) E.F.S. No. 27; 8) TV Spot; 9) E.F.S. No. 7; 10) The Empress And The Ukraine King; 11) E.F.S. No. 10; 12) Mother Upduff; 13) E.F.S. No. 36; 14) Cutaway; 15) Connection; 16) Fall Of Another Year; 17) E.F.S. No. 8; 18) Transcendental Express; 19) Ibis.
It would only be natural for a band like Can to have huge vaults of unreleased stuff over the years - after all, their wild experimentalism and careful filtration and sorting of material were hardly matched by any other band, and I strongly suspect that these seventy-seven minutes of sound, originally released in 1976 as opposed to the Limited Edition (a best-of collection), only represent the utmost top of the iceberg. The album is an absolute must for fans: a priceless 'anthology' of Can, showcasing the band's evolution from the very earliest days of 1968 and up to their latest incarnation.Unfortunately, for all its historical importance, it's hardly a great record in the musical sense. And I don't even mean the obvious defect - the nineteen tracks on here are horrendously mixed up, with Mooney era tracks interspersed with Suzuki era tracks and vocalist-less era tracks; in this way, I can hardly imagine that it was ever possible to set up a straight picture of Can's evolution in the good old Vinyl days. Thankfully, with the coming of CDs this defect has been automatically eliminated: take my advice and before putting on the CD, check out the track dating on the back cover and program your CD so that they would all follow in chronological album. It really simplifies the process of listening; I simply don't know what these guys were thinking to themselves when they first released the record. A 'conceptual move', I suppose. Sheez. But even when you straighten out the track order, Unlimited Edition is not an easily digestible product even for hardcore fans. Outtakes are outtakes, after all, and it's easy to see why most of these have been left in the can for years. Much of this stuff is just brief, one- or two-minute snippets capturing the band at trying to work out a specific groove, which is pretty funny as a document, but way too often induces yawnfests. And even the final product - yes, there are five or six completed numbers on the record - is often vastly inferior to the kind of songs the band had originally released. What I particularly miss is the lack of any tight interplay: Jaki's function on all of these snippets is more decorative than rhythm-stabilizing, while Schmidt's keyboards are generally far more prominent than they used to be, and he's my least favourite member of the 'core four' (sorry Schmidt fans - you have to admit that, while the guy did have a potload of ideas, he was always less expressive and sonically enthralling than the rhythm section and less emotional than Karoli). About half of the album is dedicated to the earliest era - with Mooney, when Can were still vastly influenced by funky rhythms and played music with an obvious American scent, no matter how 'electronized' it was. The four vocal tracks sandwiched in between the endless demos and E.F.S. snippets (decoded as 'Ethnological Forgery Series' - let's face it, at least the guys were vastly unpretentious) are okay: 'Connection' is a tight, energetic rocker with an easily discernible vocal melody, although, for some strange reason, Mooney rips off the Stones... nay, not 'Connection', but 'My Obsession' (sic!). I mean, when he sings 'my connection is your connection', it sounds exactly like Jagger singing 'my obsession your possessions', heh, heh. Karoli's solos are good, too. Elsewhere, you get a funny, weird narrative ('Mother Upduff') and some direct funk - 'The Empress And The Ukraine King' and 'Fall Of Another Year', both of which could have easily been real treats in the hands of Sly And The Family Stone. Of course, Can have their own understanding of 'funk', turning the genre upside down and making it sound cold and desperately grim instead of ardent and uplifting; but listening to the songs, you nevertheless understand that such a talented band had no other choice but to dump this style, together with Mooney himself, and turn itself to something more adventurous and bold. And even if the songs are good, how come they included that dreadful 'Cutaway'? An eighteen-minute sonic collage in the fine traditions of 'Revolution #9', the only difference being that the individual sound passages are generally much longer and everything was apparently recorded in the studio. While it begins as a pleasant enough lightweight shuffle, it soon transforms into God knows what - cacophony, dissonance, electronically encoded studio banter, puffings, pantings, howlings, isolated pieces of bass soloing and keyboard noises, and so right up to the glorious conclusion. Blah. Devotees are welcome to refer themselves to 'Augmn' or 'Peking 0' where they at least did such stuff with more depth and a better understanding of the things they actually did. The Suzuki-era stuff, then, is really a letdown; apparently, all the best stuff really did make it onto Tago-Mago. More lethargic snippets of excursions into the world of one-note compositions, and even the tracks that do have vocals are either ridiculously brief and blurry ('Blue Bag'), or marred by ear-destructive gimmicks (the ugly howls at the beginning of 'TV Spot' which is quite cool otherwise). And the most wholesome piece of them all, the lengthy 'I'm Too Leise', virtually adds nothing to things you could enjoy in their fullness in, say, 'Paperhouse'. So, strange enough, the best cuts of the collection refer to the latest stage of the band - the period in which it had no special vocalist position at all, i.e. the Babaluma/Landed period. These are several instrumentals that are far moodier and more imaginative than almost anything else on record; dreary proto-ambient pieces of music-making with firmly established 'grooves' and that particular 'otherworldly' feel which distinguished the best stuff on Babaluma. In fact, I would have easily substituted such tracks on that album as 'Splash' or 'Chain Reaction' with 'Ibis' and 'Gomorrha' off UE, if only for reasons of conceptual continuity and stable, unbroken listening. Then again, I suppose 'Ibis' and 'Gomorrha' (obviously Babaluma outtakes, judging by the time of recording) could not have made it onto the finished album for these very reasons, in order for the record to sound more diverse and variegated. Well, everyone has his own views on life, I suppose. If anything, Unlimited Edition confirms my deep suspicions about how difficult it actually is to create a successful, unforgettable listening experience by means of an experimental approach. This is not such a banal thought as some might think - remember, records are often praised judging exclusively by the criterion of 'weirdness', and this, in turn, causes other people to instinctively reject all kinds of unstandard sonic experimentation as utter crap. Unlimited Edition is fascinating in that it gives us a glimpse at the process 'behind the stage': people actually working on that stuff and sorting it out. However, just a brief comparison of this album with Soundtracks or Tago-Mago will show you that only people gifted with a real musical genius are able to bring all this experimentation to fruition, and even so, it takes time, efforts, and tons and tons of wasted tape to do that. So here's some of the pieces of that wasted tape for you. Happy listening and do not forget that this is not a place to start with Can, by all means.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976Record rating = 7
Can for night clubs? Actually, this sounds like a lot of fun.Best song: really can't pick. Really. Can't pick.
Track listing: 1) I Want More; 2) Cascade Waltz; 3) Laugh Till You Cry - Live Till You Die (O.R.N.); 4) ...And More; 5) Babylonian Pearl; 6) Smoke (E.F.S. No. 59); 7) Flow Motion.
By this time, the band was clearly moving in a more and more accessible direction, and it's only further proved by the fact that the lead-off single from this album (a thing not too common for Can altogether), 'I Want More', gained certain commercial success and almost threatened to pull Can out of the underground. Eventually it didn't, and so much for the better; but Flow Motion is undeniably the one Can album to buy if you're frightened by this band's weirdness - there's really nothing weird at all going on here.Practically every single track is set to a modernistic dance beat - no, I don't cringe at the fact, because a lot of these beats were actually invented by none other than Can themselves, although they do lead their explorations into strange areas sometimes. Thus, 'I Want More' opens with guitar lines that struggle to recreate a Bo Diddley beat (I was almost afraid I put on the Rolling Stones' debut album, leading off with Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away', instead when these notes first came in); 'Cascade Waltz' is exactly what it bills itself as; and 'Laugh Till You Cry' uses reggae rhythms. But so far, it's all used to good effect. Fans usually regard this as the start of Can's decline, and it's easy to see why: the music is nowhere near as atmospheric as it used to be, and the last traces of groundbreaking have disappeared. The German Krautrock scene was already in decline, and nearly uprooted by newcomers from Britain such as Brian Eno and David Bowie (his Station To Station came out the same year as Flow Motion and took the German stylistics to another dimension). Can's last bits of truly creative potential were spent on Landed, and this record is somewhat transitional; but 'transitional' in the good sense of the word. The later albums, particularly Saw Delight, that would see the absence of Czukay, completely lacked the spark; Flow Motion is still tasty. In what sense? Ah, it's rather hard to explain. This is just such a lightweight, cheerful, catchy album. The individual tracks, bar the title one, never seem overlong and carry their natural groove for exactly as long as necessary. And the arrangements are wonderful: a carefully placed bit of guitar solo here, a little spooky synth noise there, a few graceful violin ornaments in another place... the instrumentation is pretty diverse, with quite a few exotic instruments brought into the mix, and there's enough diversity even within a single track to keep your attention. And, of course, all of this stuff is extremely danceable, in the good sense of the word. The 'pop' tracks on the album are primarily 'I Want More' (with its reprise '....And More' at the end of the first side), 'Laugh Till You Cry, Live Till You Die' and 'Babylonian Pearl'. The first one, despite the Bo Diddley-ish guitar, is essentially a disco performance with a very invigorating beat by the ever-great Mr Liebezeit, and a keyboard background that predicts much of the Nineties dance beat music without ever sounding truly generic (okay, so maybe there was still a little spark of innovation present...). 'Laugh Till You Cry' is, like I said, a reggae-based tune, but it's all built around a mysterious instrument called "baglama", played by Karoli; actually, it like a kind of sitar, and it's all the more entertaining to witness such a combination of melody and instrument; Easternish chantings with a reggae base? Whatever. The track rules. Finally, 'Babylonian Pearl' is just a rip-off of their own 'Come Sta, La Luna?', but a shorter and more 'accessible' one. The more 'experimental' tracks on here are mostly on the second side, and while they're definitely not as captivating as the classic stuff, they're still listenable all the way through. 'Smoke' is gloomier than anything else on here: Liebezeit sets the pace with a dense and intense ethnic tom-tom beat, and Schmidt is allowed to rule supreme with atmospherics and various keyboard noises. The ambience is decent; I just don't see why anybody should prefer this to some of the spookier stuff from Tago-Mago or Ege Bamyasi. I mean, the tonality and mood of the tune just don't belong to the record; they kinda interrupt the true 'flow motion', if you axe me - otherwise, I find the title of the album to be fully adequate, by the way, as it really flows well. And then, of course, there's the title track - finally, something lengthy and unrestrained. Reggae influences again on this one, although not as evident as on 'Laugh'; rather dreary wah-wah soloing from Karoli, too, and again, the atmosphere turns to gloomy and paranoid at times, and again, nowhere near the glory days. Karoli saves the situation indeed, because his soloing is very distinct and the nasty tone of the guitar and his 'dirty licks' are so much all over the place that he almost manages to recreate the 'gorgeous noise' of old. In all, while the album is no great shakes, it's really consistent throughout, and it could have made a pretty good formula for the band to stick to in the future: humble, unpretentious 'dance rhythms' with careful, ear-attracting arrangements and a steady set of insignificant, but pleasant gimmicks to compensate for lack of innovation. Unfortunately, it all came down to a crash the very next year - proof that there's only a thin line in between artsiness and boredom, and we're walking it all the time without really noticing.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977Record rating = 5
Monotonous and aimless; the band cruising on autopilot and obviously not quite understanding the sense of its very existence. Gee.Best song: FLY BY NIGHT
Track listing: 1) Don't Say No; 2) Sunshine Day And Night; 3) Call Me; 4) Animal Waves; 5) Fly By Night.
Yep, the title sounds like it. Ever took some delight in the buzzing of a saw? Then this record's for you, as it is hard to imagine a more monotonous, noodling, robotic drone than the one present in four-fifths of this record. The saw whirls, the saw buzzes, and the late-period Can relentlessly creeps on, a bit faster than mid-tempo - actually, at a pace quite specific for the band - but not fast enough to create enough rock'n'roll excitement. Seven years ago, these tracks would be brimming with ideas: we'd have wild guitar solos, wild ethnic beats, wild Suzuki mumbles, and a tremendous live energy that really separated music made by Can from music made by artificially controlled robots. But in 1977, the situation was different. The band was falling apart, and Holger Czukay was the first to realize it. He is still listed as a formal member of the band on the album cover, credited for 'wave receiver, spec. sounds, voc. on 1'; but musically he's mostly absent, and wouldn't be featured on Can's two next (and last - for quite a large time period) albums at all.In his stead, two ex-Traffic members are recruited: Rosko Gee on bass and Reebop Kwaku Baah on percussion - as a second drummer. This alone should probably turn off some diehard fans, because a Can without Czukay and with two drummers can only be judged as a mockery of the band's former self. And yeah, the landscape is pretty grim: formally, this is still Can, because there is still some weirdness and a limited dose of bizarre guitar tones and world beat elements, but this is only on the surface. The content is null - and I fully realize that this may happen just due to the fact that I finally got enough of Can's stylistics after sitting through that many records, but I probably wouldn't get enough if the band were diverse enough and cared to progress a little further. In 1977, there was no progress any more. These tunes are lifeless - what can I say? 'Don't Say No' at least has some of the good old magical frenzy, as the guitars and synths have that odd nervous pulsation that always made Can's music so actual and attention-attracting. But when this rhythm just keeps going and going and going for six minutes without anything to diversify it (I certainly don't count the hushed vocals and Reebop's idiotic scat near the end that doesn't fit in with the sound at all), all musical value it may have contained in the beginning is lost in no time. And I can't even hear Jaki's drumming - it's so poorly mixed. And to top it off, Peter Gilmour contributes some exceptionally trite lyrics, with the line 'do what you feel what you need to do' repeated over and over again till it gets really annoying. Really. R-e-a-l-l-y. Yet the song is still a masterpiece when compared to the Latin-influenced dance number 'Sunshine Day And Night' which is sure danceable but hardly anything else - I can imagine kids grooving to it in some prestigious disco bar, and it certainly wouldn't be the worst choice, but what's in it for me? I mostly stay glued to my chair, and no matter how I try, the tune isn't strong enough to convince me to shake my poor tired ass... sorry. And whatever, Can doing silly Latin-disco numbers? My, my, how the mighty have fallen. Then, 'Call Me' (with some more trite lyrics, this time by Rosko Gee who also sings lead vocals - thank God that Traffic had Stevie Winwood to do that for him) is equally forgettable, and if not for the naggin', obnoxious, repetitive bassline, I would hardly have noticed the number at all. Somehow I doubt Holger would ever restrict himself to hitting these stupid three chords - he used to play fluent, luxurious patterns that didn't sound off like you just programmed them in a computer and nonchalantly hit the 'repeat' button. Repeat - repeat - repeat... You have to be rather clever to know how to repeat yourself with enough efficiency. And, of course, the usual trademark: a superlong, atmospheric number, this time represented by 'Animal Waves'. Now I'll be the first to admit that the sound on that one is indeed coming in 'waves', due to Schmidt's skilful keyboard tuning; but where are the animals, I wonder. Diehard Can fans could probably enjoy the number, but not me - gimme 'Halleluhwah' over this tripe any time of day or night. Sometimes it seems to me that the band just recorded about thirty seconds of music here and tape-looped it for fifteen minutes; somebody prove me that I'm wrong. Somebody please take away these Eastern computer-processed vocals, too, or I will definitely kill somebody. The drum beats are cool enough, I suppose, but fifteen minutes is too much for my nerves. Okay, so I'm not quite right - this stuff is solid background music. Relatively unpretentious, too: the album doesn't give the feeling of the band intentionally parodying itself. To my ears, it sounds like the band is saying: 'Okay guys, we're tired and we refuse to think any more - we've done enough for music's sake and now we are just going to have some mindless fun; but, in order for you to be able to enjoy it, we'll be rhythmic and danceable and loveable and give you something to shake your butt to!' That's exactly what they do (hey, even if I'm not wiggling my ass, I'm at least bobbing my head, and that's a good sign - I never do that while listening to 'Sussudio', of all things), and that's all right by me. A stable, not too high and not too low eight for this record, even if I'll probably never put it on again. Oh yeah, that last number, 'Fly By Night', is kinda cool too - a gentle ballad with nice wah-wah interplay. Nothing spectacular, but at least it has a different tone and atmosphere from everything else on the album, so I guess it gets the 'best-of' label as sure as eggs are bacon. Or vice versa.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978Record rating = 6
Deeply depressing and deeply pointless - a band that's far past its prime and seems to realize that.Best song: NOVEMBER
Track listing: 1) Serpentine; 2) Paupers Daughter And I; 3) November; 4) Seven Days Awake; 5) Give Me No "Roses"; 6) Like INOBE GOD; 7) One More Day.
A bit better than Saw Delight, but the "betterness" is, you know, similar to a last agonizing scream let out by a drowning man. Out Of Reach is a real mess of an album; while Can was a rather diverse band in the past, here the diversity seems just to stem from the band's not knowing what to do and where to go next. I mean, it's the only possible explanation I can give of the fact that more "typical Can" material like 'Serpentine' and 'November' resides next to such Rosko Gee throwaway material as 'Give Me No "Roses"' or 'Pauper's Daughter And I', not to mention Reebop crap like 'Like Inobe God'.Apparently, the loss of Czukay and addition of Gee and Reebop was just a very, very stupid move; Holger was the band's Founding Father, after all, along with Schmidt, and he constituted the band's main "vitality link", if you get my meaning. Out Of Reach sees Can placed on artificial breath already. Simply put, I just can't see any particular reason for this record's existence. It's not actually bad, but if we assume that the primary function of a good Can record is to suppress the listener with its emotional/psychedelic power, putting him into an exciting ambience never heard of previously, then yes, Out Of Reach is pretty bad in that respect, because one thing it lacks completely is any kind of power. Drab, bleak, derivative background muzak, with the once mighty rhythm section completely dissipated - with Holger gone and Reebop adding his ramblin' percussion, even dear Jaki Liebezeit's drumming now seems forced and bored. Only Karoli holds on, still pumping out great moody sounds from his guitar, but that doesn't happen too often. Actually, he only manages to really soar on 'November', the instrumental mega-epic piece of the album. And even then it doesn't really sound too much like Can: these solos remind me more of a slightly laid-back Eric Clapton in a very depressed state of mind. Indeed, 'November' is a pretty 'down' tune, almost like a heartfelt dirge, a lament for the good old days of yore when the band still could cut some edge and not end up bleeding too much. Much as I like the number, it's still not a classic, because a Can classic always needs something more than just Karoli's guitar to shine through. Elsewhere, like I said, we have two contributions from Rosko Gee - and no, they aren't all that horrible, and they don't even sound like boring Traffic. Just a couple funny, albeit annoyingly repetitive, pop numbers that sit at perfect ease on the same record with 'November', just as the Carpenters' 'Close To You' would sit at perfect ease on, say, Black Sabbath's Paranoid, I guess. When they're isolated, though, I don't have anything against them, and I even find myself whistling the refrain of 'Give Me No "Roses"' from time to time. On the other hand, 'Like Inobe God', Reebop's "ethnic spot" on this record, is downright awful. "Ethno-disco" would be a more appropriate word, I guess; I hate the vocals in that song for their obnoxiousness, and refuse to ever take a fourth listen to this shit. And the rest of this stuff is, well, more or less typical for late Seventies' Can: the usual "rhythmic trance" stuff, not innovative or terribly experimental any more, but not thoroughly offensive either. 'Seven Days Awake' is pretty scary on some sublevel, I suppose, with creepy synth overtones and the trademark "ominous Karoli distortion", but it was all done before and it was all done better. 'Serpentine' just goes nowhere, like a serpentine is probably supposed to do; and the short coda 'One More Day' that closes the album is just a minimal astral collage that seems to be saying "well, one more day passed, one more formulaic album released". Pathetic. Considering that the previous year already saw the release of Bowie's Heroes, and that Brian Eno and his disciples were at their creative and inspirational peak at the time, it's no surprise that Out Of Reach passed completely unnoticed. Still, I must reiterate that this is not the worst Can album ever, and even somewhat better than the previous one. Why? Maybe because listening to it simply makes me feel a little pity for the guys. It's just that if I listen to 'November' not on its own, but equipped with my knowledge of the band's history, it really seems to be like... like a cry for help, maybe. There's a human note in there, in between all the robotic beats and mechanical coldness - and yeah, "human notes" were never Can's specialty, because one can hardly imagine a more "dehumanized" musical genre than Krautrock, but I still get this "connection". Maybe nobody else does, in which case I'm ready to lower the rating. But as of now, I find the album (or 'November', at least) speaking to me personally on some strange level of the subconscious. Or maybe it's just the album cover, you know? That hand desperately grasping something through the sheet? Or the album title? Out Of Reach? What is exactly "out of reach"? Success? Money? New artistic inspiration? It's a band that is in a deep creative crisis and doesn't even try to hide that fact - which is quite laudable, because other bands would just pour out a load of crap and dub it "Tago-Mago II" or something like that, pretending to have preserved the older guts when in fact they are just washed up and that's that. So let's all respect Can, if only for the reason that they've been honest with their listeners. Although I sure wish somebody kicked Mr Reebop in the face for me...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979Record rating = 6
Gotta love 'Can-Can'. Gotta yawn a lot, too. Good thing they broke up - okay, not a bad thing.Best song: CAN-CAN
Track listing: 1) All Gates Open; 2) Safe; 3) Sunday Jam; 4) Sodom; 5) A Spectacle; 6) Ping-Pong; 7) Can-Can; 8) Can Be.
Note: since 1986 this is also available under the title Inner Space, which is the edition I currently have. So don't let 'em bug you. Keep cool.Their last album before the 1989 reunion, and it's not that it's radically different from the few previous ones. All right, there are a few differences - a few small sparkly differences which make me give this a somewhat unremarkable nine as opposed to, say, Saw Delight's somewhat unremarkable eight. Difference # 1: there's no ultra-lengthy pieces on this album, the lengthiest cuts come in the beginning and are both just (!) eight minutes long. Difference # 2: there's a much larger atmospheric diversity than before. The tunes are taken at different tempos, ranging from dreary'n'slow to gritty'n'bouncy, and, while the mood is still mostly 'menacing darkness', it's also active: Saw Delight just had the band playing with closed eyes on autopilot, while on such numbers as 'All Gates Open' and 'Safe' they sound like they're actually good intelligent lads and have an understanding of what they're doing. Difference # 3: they do 'Can-Can'. Man, you gotta hear their deconstruction of the infamous French melody. There's a short prelude - twenty seconds of ping-pong noises - and then they rip into the tune and do it with absolute conviction. I mean, it's meant to be a joke of course (which is a groovy thing - we don't often hear musical jokes from Can, now do we?), but they don't even build their own groove on it, if you know what I mean. They just take the melody as it is, not a single chord changed or 'mocked', and dress it in an electronic, robotic background, with Karoli obviously having the most fun as he plays synthesizer-processed guitar throughout. Lots of people completely deride the number, but I think it's really cool, and together with its follow-up 'Can Be' (upbeat variations on the same theme), forms a very exclusive swansong to the band's career. Others would have gone off with a plaintive ballad or an overblown epic; Can, a band that defines 'grimness' with its very existence, prefers to leave us with a funny dirty joke. Cheers, guys! All right, so there are other numbers on here, too. Like I said, I do slightly prefer them to the usual stuff on the previous album. 'All Gates Open' isn't just plodding on without any sense to it; it has a certain stately majesty about it, mostly because of Schmidt's synths that try to create a 'heavenly' mood and sometimes succeed. And 'Safe' is even better, as during its eight minutes I see more interesting things going on than during the whole length of Saw Delight; it is a clearly apocalyptic piece of work, with ominous noises of thunder overshadowing the voices of the instruments and Karoli's vocals sounding as if coming from an 'underground'. It is very hard to trace the stylistic and emotional difference of tracks like these from previously unsuccessful efforts, but it's interesting to try all the same: such things, once again, show how difficult it is to create something 'experimental' that would be 'effective'. 'Safe' is effective, indeed - some might find it too close to the style of Kraftwerk, but I think it still bears Can's signature rather than Mr Schneider's. The other three shorter tunes are somewhat less interesting and could have easily fit onto Delight, at least, according to my opinion. 'Sunday Jam' again has that murky, naggin' bass style that clearly separates Mr Rosko Gee from Mr Holger Czukay, and, really, I can't see any need for the tune after we'd been subjected to the far superior 'Safe' - it tries to set the same dark, end-of-the-world mood but I really can't spot it very well as Rosko's bass obscures the view. And 'Sodom' (by the way, isn't that an outtake? Didn't we have 'Gomorrha' on Unlimited Edition?) is slow and dirgey, which is fine by me, but I really wouldn't know how to explain if the title really fits in with the atmosphere or not. Man, they sure used to write 'em dirgey tunes catchier. Damo, Damo, where art thou? Meanwhile, 'A Spectacle' is the only track on here I can say that I actively, actively dislike. Dance style, trashy disco again, punctuated by idiotic repetitive lyrics; what a drag, ladies and gentlemen. The harmonica sounds fresh enough, and I give it that they rarely use harmonica at all, but they also use similar lines on 'All Gates Open', and that's it. Bah. Which, again, brings us to 'Can-Can' and 'Can Be' that close the album with a cheerful bang. Now I suppose I have rambled long enough and it's time for me to shut up, but just one last remark. Like you had the misfortune of seeing, the ratings for these last albums are pretty low; but if you're the kind of person who can't watch horror flicks without digging his head deep down in your packet of popcorn, I really advise you to start your Can acquaintance with any of these late-period albums. On one hand, they are far more easily accessible; on the other hand, trust me - if you hear them before you hear the early, 'classic', stuff, you won't be disappointed; at least, you will be disappointed far less than if you fall in love with Tago-Mago and then proceed to acquire Can or Saw Delight.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989Record rating = 7
Half nostalgia, half silly joke - not anything VITAL, but then, neither were the last five or six albums.Best song: BELOW THIS LEVEL
Track listing: 1) On The Beautiful Side Of A Romance; 2) The Withoutlaw Man; 3) Below This Level (Patient's Song); 4) Movin' Right Along; 5) Like A New Child; 6) Hoolah Hoolah; 7) Give The Drummer Some; 8) In The Distance Lies The Future.
One thing I have really always liked about Can is that, out of all Krautrock bands, they were easily the less predictable. And I don't mean in the sense that's usually associated with weirdo experimental bands; I mean much broader. Bridging their early jams with totally "natural" pop-or-jazz excursions, not being afraid to make plain commercial dance music, shifting gears from serious to funny to stark raving mad to perfectly cool, you can picture Can as all that and much more.Thus their reunion album, while far from their greatest, succeeds as just another continuation of the 'nothing is sacred, nothing is impossible' stylistics of their work. In fact, legend has it that the main reason behind the recording was Malcolm Mooney suddenly finding a dusty ten-year-old airplane ticket stuffed in his armchair - courtesy of his old pals. For Can, whose last six albums in a row didn't even have a special lead vocalist, let alone having Mooney, such a reunion would probably be the least thing to expect, yet somehow they did it, and for this one special occasion, reunited just as they were around 1969, all five of them participating on equal basis. Trivia lovers should note, though, that even if the record was released as late as 1989, the actual recording sessions took place in December 1986 (in Nice of all places, hence probably the 'they do wear pants on the southern side of France' line in 'Hoolah Hoolah'). So... what's it like? It's very lightweight. If I were in your place, o reader, this phrase would be enough to get me up and runnin' to the store, because this is exactly the main thing I'm afraid of when dealing with former art-rock bands' comebacks: that they will start taking themselves even more seriously, take advantage of the CD format, and fill up seventy-eight minutes of my time with lengthy, convoluted, phantasmagorically cumbersome modernistic suites chockful of equally cumbersome - and, in the end, useless and vain - intellectual references aka puzzles, most of which will suck anyway because they will be composed under the motto of "let's keep up with 'em smart hip youngsters" rather than under the motto of "let's make some good music". Fortunately, Can just don't buy into that sort of thing. Rite Time is hardly 'simplistic' or devoid of challenge, but it never weighs down on you; it invites you to have a good time with it. In terms of texture, it is quite reminiscent of the band's mid-Seventies output (think Landed, Flow Motion, that sort of thing), but, of course, Mooney's presence makes it also fairly reminiscent of the old paranoid days of Monster Movie. That said, I'm much, much relieved to tell you that Mooney is perfectly tolerable all the way through on here. Not only does he actually do some singing in places, he also shuts up where it's time for him to shut up and revs up where it's time for him to rev up, not vice versa. As for the music, well, it's all classic Can-style half-funky, half-bluesy, a-little-bit-whatever-it-takes jamming, subdivided into neatly trimmed sections, each with a mood of its own. The less ponderous they are, the better it is: my favourite numbers happen to be the shortest ones. 'The Withoutlaw Men', for instance, where Mooney seems to be rave-telling the storry of Jesse James, is chockful of magnificent "joke guitar" parts from Karoli as he - seemingly at random, although there is in fact a pattern to that style - keeps inserting isolated bluesy phrases to puncture Mooney's wailing. Think something subtle and minimalistic, like Mark Knopfler on Dire Straits' debut, but with a distinctly "cutesy", even comic overtone. Speaking of 'Below This Level', this song should definitely have been appropriated long ago by some mega-popular arcade computer game to roll along with the credits as the player finally annihilates the most monstrous monster and falls back in his chair, exhausted, but satisfied - with this particular Can song as his particular reward. Not just because of the title and the lyrics, of course, but also because it's got this friendly, relaxative atmosphere. Tap your toe to the groovy jazzy rhythm, whoah-whoah along to the hushing vocal harmonies, and make the necessary cool stuttering pauses in between sections. A fun tune if there ever was one, although pretty much undescribable. Not that I can really describe 'Hoolah Hoolah' either. Fast and incredibly dumb in a pseudo-Zappa way, replete with professional distorted guitar from Karoli, riffs that sound like somebody's frantically strumming a weirdly-toned banjo in the background, carnivalesque organ instrumental sections, and, of course, the silly kiddie lyrics. Of course, I can see where a big fan of 'Peking O' could angrily dismiss this stuff as a total sacrilege, but that's his prerogative. Mine is to say that if a rare track by this band makes me giggle all over the keyboard, this only speaks in the band's favour. In fact, the long tracks don't really live up to this level. 'Like A New Child' in particular is a pretty bland way to spend seven minutes - a groove that never seems to take off, opting rather for an atmospheric effect, but who the heck needs this kind of watered-down atmospherics (reliant on just a few isolated acoustic chords and a sparse adult-contemporary level synth backing) when you got albums like Future Days to turn back to? 'Give The Drummer Some', with its livelier, Latin-influenced rhythms and "dissonant" piano runs, is much better, but hardly all that impressive either. The honour of "best long opus", then, falls upon 'On The Beautiful Side Of A Romance' - perversely, this is the one track where Mooney sounds the most annoying, with endless runs of whiny 'aiieyaiiieyaiiiee's that are neither funny nor mopey but just grate on the ears. Fortunately, this only happens sporadically, and most of the track's space is dedicated to Karoli's familiar guitar landscapes instead. What this all means is that Can have, in fact, become creatively sterile, and binding themselves to the past with Mooney's presence sure doesn't aid in finding new ways of development. But even if this mostly is second-rate nostalgia, it's a kind of nostalgia that doesn't take itself seriously, and by evaluating most, or much, of this album as an artistic joke you save yourself a few gallons of poisonous spittle as well as get an opportunity to enjoy some more Can music. After all, it wouldn't have been prudent to nurture any great expectations considering how inconsistent this band had been for the last five years of its existence. But on the other hand, where else do you get a song as ridiculously gross and campy as 'Hoolah Hoolah' in the entire Can catalog?
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Year Of Release: 1997Record rating = 8
Never lives up to the first track, but that's hardly a serious accusation considering the first track makes up for half of the album.Best song: UP THE BAKERLOO
Track listing: 1) Up The Bakerloo; 2) Paperhouse; 3) Entropy; 4) Little Star Of Bethlehem; 5) Turtles Have Short Legs; 6) Shikaku Maru Ten.
Just another rarities collection. Doesn't have a lot of rarities, because the average Can rarity is about the size of an average early Beach Boys album, but that's why we love 'em, the doggone Krauts. Should I start from the worst or should I start with the best? Let's flip a coin to find out. Heads is worst, tails is best. Heads it is. Hmm. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Oops, sorry, stuck in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead mode for a sec.Not that there's anything "worst" on here, really. Well, track 5 is really strange. An obscure B-side called 'Turtles Have Short Legs', it's a pseudo-drunk three minute funk-calypso hybrid with an intentionally stupid carnivalesque/frathouse atmosphere that you least expect from a Can tune - which essentially makes the song worth it just because it further consolidates Can's reputation of being among the least predictable bands of the Seventies, but not for much else. The other three-minute B-side, 'Shikaku Maru Ten', is a nice relaxed Suzuki-dominated shuffle which, unfortunately, never has the chance to grow into much of anything, be it groovy, atmospheric, or melodic. The other four tracks actually are live, and it's hard to expect anything less than perfection from a true live Can performance. There's a really long version of the Froggie & Toadie anthem off their first, long time unreleased, album ('Little Star Of Bethlehem'), done about a million times better than on the album in question, with more energy and atmosphere and imagination to the performance - be sure to check out all the cool noises Schmidt pushes out of his keyboard array, right down to astral Pink Floyd-ish chaos, while the others are just keeping busy driving the blues-rock wheelbarrow of the tune to its final destination of 7:50. There's a somewhat crappily recorded version of 'Paperhouse', which can't really substitute the proverbial perfection of Tago Mago, but presents you with enough variations all the same. And there's fifteen minutes of 'Entropy', which, once again, could use some better recording equipment - with the drums almost inaudible (a goddamn pity since Jaki is definitely rolling up a storm out there in the background) and Suzuki's blabbering only occupying a tiny corner of the overall spectrogram, there's hardly anything but Karoli's fireworks and, for some reason, some really really loud avantgarde John Cale-like piano chords from Schmidt, which is great for a while but gets slightly tiresome sometime in the middle. But to hell with it all. The important thing is - there's the whole live version of 'Up The Bakerloo' here, all thirty five minutes of it. Do you realize how friggin' cool 'Up The Bakerloo' is? Well, don't take my word for granted, because no description will do justice to it. Oh no, it's not tremendously different from the usual high standart of 'Mother Sky' or 'Halleluhwah'. It's just longer and more voluminous and has a lot more happening in it. And it incorporates a nightmarish chaotic section which really puts to shame both 'Peking O' and 'Augmn'. Buries them, I'd say. First you have a slow, meticulous build-up as the band diligently searches for the correct groove, playing isolated, almost random (yet still rhythmic) bursts of chords and fills. Then they actually manage to find it, and it's Karoli's show all the way - one more chance to sing an epic ode to Karoli as the ultimate Jammer of all time, never content with sticking to one chord progression but gradually going from cliched blues-rock to head-over-heels barroom boogie to some weird Eastern scale patterns to folksy droning to wah-wah-dominated metal and back again. In the meantime, Czukay's bass plays the useful function of a redhot iron sporadically scraping the skin off your back (maybe not the best metaphor out there, but then I've always had a pretty limited number of inspiration sources), and Schmidt sits in the background and sits and sits and sits until wham!, he gets a chance to insert some proto-RPG soundtrack ditty while Karoli takes a quick puff or a quick dump or something. And Damo? You certainly get used to his babbling as a necessary, if slightly annoying, evil, but wait until you get to the "chaotic" mid-section, where Karoli steps back and it's the apocalyptic fuzz organ of Schmidt and Suzuki's playing Brutus sticking out of Lucifer's jaw that occupy our attention. Don't play that one part too loud, or you might get arrested for mass inhuman treatment of guinea pigs. Once they pick the tempo up again and straighten out the rhythm, it's hardly as hot and tension-filled as it was before, but it gives Karoli the opportunity to get some more funk & jazz elements going on, just in a slightly more relaxed mood. Now forget all of this and go get the tune. It's thirty-five minutes long and it's worth every second. Speaking of the drums, it may be a moot observation, of course, but it does seem like for their studio releases, they were careful to select the performances where Jaki Liebezeit was really playing the "human drum machine" part - the more unnerving and robotic the pattern was (regardless of complexity), the more chance it had of ending up on the album. In this particular live setting (and in many others I've heard) Jaki is much more "human", bringing in lots of unpredictable, 'unprogrammed' fills, and actually resembling a free-form jazz player with a whiff of Keith Moon to him rather than a pedantic, unmovable rhythm keeper. That's not necessarily an advantage - after all, there's plenty of great inventive drummers, it was the "human metronome" part of Jaki's playing that really made him stand out - but hearing these tracks really opens one's eyes to lots of extra features and abilities these guys didn't necessarily display in the studio. Which is, of course, a solid argument for putting out lots and lots of archive releases - which is exactly what Can members have been doing for the past decade or two. You don't think I'd accuse them of doing it for the money? What an impolite thing to ask. No, really.
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Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Jammin' all over the place, baby. Inconsistent, but still awesome.Best song: JYNX
Track listing: CD I: 1) Jynx; 2) Dizzy Dizzy; 3) Vernal Equinox; 4) Fizz; 5) Yoo Doo Right; 6) Cascade Waltz;CD II: 1) Colchester Finale; 2) Kata Kong; 3) Spoon.
This is a selection from the limited-edition Can boxset, concentrating, as the title makes clear, on live recordings from the Seventies. A gift for the Can fanatics? Yup - but only for the really diehard ones. This lengthy 2-CD set is entirely dedicated to the band's superhuman jamming power, downplaying their strengths as wizards of technology and noise experimentators. (I mean, there's plenty of noise in this package, but it's usually just the result of the band's overplaying). And these are long jams, too - the 'Colchester Finale' on the second CD drags over thirty seven minutes (!), and few of the others are shorter than eight or ten.The tracks themselves are more or less divided 'half in half' - about a half are live versions of the band's studio originals, and the other half are fully spontaneous improvisations without any apparent connections. That said, even the "well-known" songs are often reworked beyond recognition, often preserving as much as the main riff and nothing else. It's pretty hard to recognize 'Dizzy Dizzy', for instance, apart from the main 'shaking' rhythm, or 'Vernal Equinox', or 'Spoon'. And I guess it's not even necessary to try to recognize them; Live just emphasizes Can the Jammers, it has nothing to do with recreating the studio stuff note for note (not to mention that the "studio" stuff itself was for the most part recorded live as well). Overall, this is some terrific musical stuff you got here, but it's not without its problems. First of all, it may say 1971-1977 for all I care, but the first CD is entirely dedicated to the post-Suzuki era; and the Suzuki-era is mainly represented by the already mention 'Colchester Finale' (the band's encore performance at the University of Essex in May '72), which is really the least intriguing track on the album, and the most abysmally recorded one, with trashy audience bottleg quality. Thirty seven minutes of poorly recorded "chaos within structure" isn't my personal idea of a good time, and it's really not until the last five or seven minutes or so that the band really goes into kickass mode. Not to mention that Suzuki himself is almost inaudible. My advice is to skip the first twenty minutes of the track so that you could initially get closer to the mind-blowing conclusion of the track, with the synthesizer roaring as if it were an exploding nuclear bomb. The fourteen-minute version of 'Spoon' is far better, but still can get tedious halway through. So my main money is on the first CD of the two. I'm pretty sure that with a little more care and elaboration, they could have easily plunked out some prime Suzuki era material, but then again if it all sounds as shitty as 'Finale', maybe not. But at least the stuff from 1975-77, occupying the first CD, while nowhere near as "wild" as Can used to have it with Suzuki, is far more clearly recorded. Now if your jamming tolerance is low, you'll probably hate the first CD as well. But let's get this straight - in the Seventies, Can used to be the jam band number one, and if you hate this stuff, then I guess improvisation is just not your warhorse. Not that I ever was a huge improvisation fan, you understand, but in Can's case I make an obvious exception. I'd say the main star of these proceedings, once again, is Herr Karoli (may he rest in peace). His playing onstage is essentially bluesy/jazzy and he doesn't seem to be using many particularly untrivial licks, but he's got a great feel for what he's doing and he builds up the atmosphere masterfully - beginning from syncopated, almost minimalistic phrasing and then slowly, but faithfully piling one super-heroic passage over another until you're ready to scream bloody mercy. The fully improvised 'Jynx' which opens the album is easily the best example of his style, with Karoli going nuts over his wah-wah... until it culminates in a series of "synthesizer orgasms" from Herr Schmidt. Who is, by the way, hero number two of the proceedings, whenever Karoli shuts himself down for a moment and lets Irmin take over. Of course, one wouldn't want to downplay the role of Czukay either, and Jaki Liebezeit sums up the picture with his immaculate drumming, although I must confess I like him much better when he's acting like the human drum machine than when he's actually trying to 'experiment' with his beats. Sometimes it's wiser to cling to the minimalistic kick-snare kick-snare scheme, you know. Not much can be said about the individual tracks, actually. Quite frankly, I'd rather be reviewing Limp Bizkit than trying to describe an actual jam, let alone a Cam jan, er, Can jam. It's wonderful, ominous, dreadful, terrifying music, especially when you blast it out loud of your window sending all the neighbours to run for cover. But it's all based on more or less the same emotional expectations throughout (with a few minor exceptions like the almost "mellow" performance of 'Cascade Waltz' at the end of CD 1), and while Can were able to reflect a whole spectrum of emotions from dread to bliss on their original studio albums, Can Live concentrates on just one part o' that spectrum. But it's a fascinating part all the same.
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