Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Can: The Lost Tapes

What should be a major event in the life of a Can fan find turns out to be strangely disappointing. It's pretty common knowledge (certainly amongst fans) that all those classic albums from "Monster Movie" in 1969 through to 1974's "Soon Over Babaluma" (arguably their last really good album) were the result of Holger Czukay's editing skills. Their modus operandi - much like Miles Davis's from the same period - was to record absolutely everything and then leave it to Holger to edit it down and down and down until it sounded like a record. It's a great way to make records (I managed to have a go at being involved in the process myself with the first Lunar Dunes record). 

So anyway, all these years later, here come selected edits of what was left on the cutting room floor. 3 cd's worth - or, if you like, six LP's worth of unheard classic era Can to sift through. With all that music, it's impossible to make any snap decisions but a couple of random observation made whilst listening through might be of interest to fellow Can people.

Holger made the right decisions. Well, duh! But it's worth pointing out. You can hear the germs and embryos of many classic tracks in the brewing ("Spoon", "Mother Sky" to name but two) and in each case it just makes you want to listen to what Holger actually put out. 

Malcolm Mooney had a great voice but it can be really annoying. He was a mental patient, after all. When he gets a phrase between his teeth you surely know it, and know it, and know it.....

Jaki Liebezeit's drumming is a constant delight. It always was and it still is. Without him, so much of this stuff would be quite unlistenable. His crisp professionalism is, in some ways, what prevents Can at their wackiest from entering the realms of mystery that their great rivals Faust routinely occupied during the same period. But they could get right out there and no mistake. Some of this music is very extreme. But I find something lacking in it. It's distanced from the listener somehow. It has that Germanthing of nailing it to the floor and labelling it even when what it is is beyond description. Perhaps that's why I ultimately prefer Faust - they never gave a damn about any of that Stockhausen malarkey.

But Can could be extremely funky (in a way Faust never could) and when they get their hands around a funk groove they make every other European band sound plain silly (well, let's face it, a lot of them sounded pretty silly anyway). Holger Czukay was a marvellous bassist and Can's demise as a vital force can be directly plotted next to his growing disinterest in the instrument - as he became more and more concerned with texture and atmosphere, ironically the texture and atmosphere became one of increasingly subtle blandness.

Essential purchase? A bit like The Beatles "Anthologies", if you're a fan you will have to have it, but you probably won't play it very often.