CAN: LANDED (1975)
1) Full Moon On The Highway; 2) Half Past One; 3) Hunters And Collectors; 4) Vernal Equinox; 5) Red Hot Indians; 6) Unfinished.
As public enthusiasm slowly dissipates over Can's gradual slipping into «accessible» patterns, my hope that eventually these mid-Seventies' albums will get their due only increases. Nowhere near as groundbreaking as Tago Mago or Future Days, sure; but in some special way, Landed still gives you a unique sound — Can crossing their experience, inborn talent, and experimentation with more conventional rock and funk rhythms of the day. Don't let brief lazy descriptions like «Landed marks the band's turn towards glam rock and early disco» form an incorrect impression before you even hear the album — if all glam rock and disco sounded like ʻFull Moon On The Highwayʼ and ʻHunters And Collectorsʼ, we could just as well eliminate any formal difference between nightclubs and highbrow art colleges.
Actually, Can were part of the common progressive trend that few people back then managed to (or even tried to) avoid — they just happened to be less lucky than, say, Kraftwerk, who'd also went from frenetic avantgarde experimentation to «catchy pop» in a matter of several years, but somehow managed not only to preserve, but even to enhance their critical reputation in the process. It was easier for Ralf and Florian, though, because with records like Autobahn and Man Machine they were creating a completely new sub-genre of pop music, whereas Can found themselves in a more difficult position: any sacrifice of their «excesses» (track length, tape splicing, crazy vocalizing, complex time signatures, etc.) would inevitably bring them back to their well-tattered roots — good old blues-rock. Would there be any fun in that?
Well, I'd say that Landed is still a lot of fun. ʻFull Moon On The Highwayʼ makes this album the first one in Can's catalog to be introduced with a «potentially commercial» three-minute pop-rock song, but it is still unmistakeably Can — largely due to scorching acid fire guitar solos from Karoli, because the rhythm section of Liebezeit and Czukay prefers to exercise restraint (although I still like whatever Holger is doing with that bass, especially in the coda where he seems to be turning that «disco» pattern inside out). The vocals, handled by Czukay on this track, are louder and more self-assured than anything sung on Babaluma, and the sped-up chorus vocals sound less like the proverbial chipmunks than like a pack of merry sprites levitating over the proverbial highway. If you ever wanted to put together a rock opera on highway travel, make sure to put this one right after Deep Purple's ʻHighway Starʼ — there's no cooler transition from bright daytime, with the protagonist exuding self-confidence and arrogance, to creepy nighttime, when spirits take flight and driving becomes a test for the spirit.
The other tracks also have that night-time sheen to them, much of this having to do with the band's final mastering of state-of-the-art recording technologies (for the first time, they had access to 16-track recording!), so that some of the action is taking place «in the background» and some «in the foreground», creating cool sonic dimensions — not to mention that ʻHunters And Collectorsʼ "all come out at night", and ʻVernal Equinoxʼ has the root nox in the title. ʻVernal Equinoxʼ, in particular, is a highlight, the album's busiest instrumental with lots of wailing pleasure from Karoli's guitar (no less than three different tones, too) and occasional ultra-speedy bursts from the rhythm section (although the electronic drums are probably programmed, but Czukay's bass zoops are most certainly not).
On the whole, even if the individual songs aren't nearly as catchy as they should be, I love the atmosphere — Landed sounds like one big supernatural dance party around some sort of elemental bonfire, and as much as it borrows from contemporary R&B, it ends up converting everything into ritualistic wildness, largely due to clever mixing techniques. This makes the transition into the final track, honestly titled ʻUnfinishedʼ, all the more natural — this is where rhythm dies out, but ritualistic wildness remains, as the track begins similarly to one of the spooky freakouts on Tago Mago and eventually, after a long and dangerous journey through sonic tornadoes, earthquakes, and beastie-infested underground caverns, ends up somewhere in the otherworldly domain of Future Days, populated with Yellow Submarine characters. Okay, so maybe this description makes the composition more interesting than it actually is, but as far as Can noisefests go, this one is pretty inspired — and has a gorgeous little impressionist coda that old man Debussy would probably have thumbed up for me.
In the meantime, I'm going to have to do on my own and issue this an autonomous thumbs up all by myself. Actually, maybe the best thing about these mid-period Can albums is that they are rarely boring — you'd think that the band should have gotten less superficially exciting and stuck in its own juice as it went on, but they never forget about the fun quotient, unlike some of their stuffier Krautrock contemporaries like Faust, for example. And when fun and experiment go hand in hand, it's the best kind of fun and the best kind of experiment that may be had.