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Friday, April 1, 2016

Can: Ege Bamyasi

CAN: EGE BAMYASI (1972)

1) Pinch; 2) Sing Swan Song; 3) One More Night; 4) Vitamin C; 5) Soup; 6) I'm So Green; 7) Spoon.

This follow-up to Tago Mago is frequently hailed as a shorter, less ambitious and more acces­sible masterpiece — yet while it is indeed listenable and impressive, it has always seemed to me as a bit of a letdown, a «lite» version of its monstruous predecessor. Aesthetically, the focus re­mains fixed on the same elements — jam power, tape splice, rhythm section tricks, Suzuki madness — but the tracks get shorter and occasionally even poppier, and the atmospheres, ex­cept for a brief bit in the middle of ʻSoupʼ, rarely go to the extremes of Tago Mago.

Curiously, the album may have beeneven more influential on successive generations of musicians than Tago Mago — with Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Portishead all going on record with their ex­pression of specific admiration, and the band Spoon even adopting its name from the album's first single. And if you go earlier, it is hardly a coincidence that the main groove of Talking Heads' ʻOnce In A Lifetimeʼ is essentially the same as in ʻPinchʼ, the lead-off track from the album. My guess is that this adoration has something to do with Can trying to «can» their wild sound in these easier-to-assimilate musical forms, with extra hooks and all. Another reason may be purely technical: ʻSpoonʼ was the first Can song made available to a mass audience, being released as a single on the United Artists label, and its three minutes are a pretty captivating synthesis of pop catchiness and spooky weirdness, often provided by the same means. It was also one of the first uses of the drum machine on a commercial single, sounding fairly unusual for 1972 (as difficult as it is to transport yourself back in time for that parameter).

Still, the record does work fairly well as a lighter, humbler, and a bit more humorous companion to its big brother — with an oddly symbolic fixation on the greens, beginning with the album title (the Turkish equivalent for Aegean Okra) and cover and ending with song names like ʻVitamin Cʼ, ʻSoupʼ, and ʻI'm So Greenʼ, as if the band somehow intended to make a conceptual record about the pleasures of vegetarianism, but then forgot to reflect this in the music (in some twisted way, Damo's desperate "hey you, you're losing your vitamin C!" may be interpreted as a bit of advertisement, but only according to the rules and laws of the madhouse). Accepting this status as a fact makes it easier to come to terms with the observation that they are re-using quite a few of last year's ideas — for instance, ʻVitamin Cʼ is actually a poppy variation on the groove of ʻHal­leluhwahʼ, and the ten minutes of ʻSoupʼ do not add any new insights into jamming magic when compared to Tago Mago's ecstatic rituals.

The «harnessing» of the unrestrained power does result in some unique pop weirdness, of course. ʻSing Swan Songʼ and ʻOne More Nightʼ are like a pair of perverse-erotic siblings — the first one is a psychedelic elegy that could be directed at some Lady of the Lake or other, beginning with the sounds of rippling water and then using Holger's bass as a steady rudder as the boat smoothly glides across the sonic surface, and Karoli's guitar imitates the sound of bagpipes; and ʻOne More Nightʼ busily hustles about, methodically weaving a spider's web around your object of desire, as Suzuki grins and cackles, Dr. Evil-style, in anticipation of something juicy. On the other hand, ʻI'm So Greenʼ sounds so not unlike some Brit-pop creation from the late Sixties (think Small Faces, perhaps?) that I actually find it hard to understand what exactly makes it a «Can» song, other than Czukay's overpowered bass. It's nice, but not necessarily something I'm looking to in a Krautrock tune, you know.

On the whole, it's still very much a thumbs up, and I can easily see how it could be used as a concise manual for all aspiring «avant-pop» songwriters, but I seriously miss the sharpness, shrillness, and pull-all-the-stops attitude of the previous two records; and I do not think that the serious change in direction that would occur with Future Days was coincidental — I'm pretty sure they must have been worried themselves about getting caught in a rut, as impressive and idiosyncratic (but not inimitable) that rut might have seemed to be.

11 comments:

  1. 'Spoon' wasn't just a single. It was used as the main theme of a 3-part TV Show, 'Das Messer' (The Knife^^), after a book Francis Durbridge wrote. That really made Can very popular, because these TV-Movies were very popular in Germany and had extremly high ratings. I suppose the band wanted to drift away form that, too.

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  2. Kanye West sampled/reinterpreted "Sing Swan Song" to make "Drunk and Hot Girls". Not really a hip-hop fan, and Kanye's a tool, but I have to give him props for his knowledge and appreciation for a wide variety of music, particularly progressive/art rock, and presenting it in different ways for a new audience (he also sampled "21st Century Schizoid Man" for "Power").

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  3. I think the first hit single with a drum machine was Sly's "Family Affair", though the first actual single with it I can think of was the Sly-produced cover of one of his hits in 1970 (I don't remember who covered it, though).

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  4. I normally wouldn't point something like this out, but I just saw it while reading through a few of the older reviews too - "monstrous" has only one U.

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    1. Yes, I prefer the historically correct spelling, since the word was borrowed from French monstrueux (< Lat. monstruosus). Losing the -u- was not the right thing to do.

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    2. Fair enough! I suppose I should have given someone in your discipline more credit.

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  5. A good album, but I feel about the same way as you, George. It's never really HIT me hard like the albums before it or the couple right after it. It doesn't seem compromised: it's definitely odd and groundbreaking.

    It just doesn't thrill me, the way classic Can does.

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  6. "And the band Spoon even adopting its name from the album's first single".

    Wouldn't make them the first band to name themselves after a Can song, there also having been Hunters & Collectors (and possibly others).

    Speaking of influenced artists, someone on YouTube once pointed out that "I'm So Green" sounds like a precursor to the Happy Mondays.

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    1. There's also The Mooney Suzuki, who went a step further than a mere song title.

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  7. Vitamin C sounds to me like some Italian revolutionary ditty.

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