CAN: RITE TIME (1989)
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.
Maybe the best thing about this record is its title — while we could certainly question the idea of 1989 really being the right time for a reunion of the original Mooney-era Can, there is no question whatsoever that most of Can's music always represented a musical rite, and unless you take it as such, you probably lack the full potential of getting into the groove. The good news, then, is that this reunion, which really took place in 1986 somewhere in the southern side of France (where, as ʽHoolah Hoolahʼ tells us, they don't wear pants), fully complies with the «rite» thing and largely consists of danceable grooves presided over by a mad shaman (Mooney) who is, at least formalistically, still capable of sounding in deep communication with the spirits.
Nevertheless, the record was largely either ignored or reviled upon release, and critical opinion has not warmed up to it in recent decades — maybe because nobody really bothered: «reunion» albums are typically looked upon with suspicion, and, unlike «forgotten masterpieces» from a band's long-gone golden age, once condemned to oblivion, they can never be redeemed. The thing is, Rite Time is thoroughly retro-oriented: most of it sounds like the idea was really to make Monster Movie Vol. 2, and the very approach, for a band known for its relentless exploration of pathways into the future, must have seemed like heresy. When people heard it, and it sounded like Monster Movie without being as good as Monster Movie, well... people had plenty of far more relevant stuff to listen to in 1989.
Listening to Rite Time in retrospect, though, with the fields of time now compressed and flattened so that the chronological gaps of the 20th century are no longer as huge as they once seemed — the album is mighty pleasant. It does sound like classic Can a lot: same wild and complex work from the rhythm section, same bizarre mix of electronic and acoustic keyboards from Schmidt, same array of psychedelic guitar tones from Karoli, and not a single teeny-tiny indication that this was recorded in a completely new decade: apparently, the guys never placed much trust in either the digital synthesizer epidemics or the pop-metal guitar tone (for which, now that we look back at it, they really should be commended). Nor are there any signs of continuing passion for their late Seventies' excesses: Rosko and Rebop were not invited (well, Rebop could not even if they wanted to, having been dead since 1983), and neither disco grooves nor Caribbean dance rhythms are any longer part of the masterplan.
The actual grooves range from decent to occasionally excellent: ʽOn The Beautiful Side Of A Romanceʼ, for instance, is built upon a convincingly grim interaction between Czukay's «earthquake» bass rumbles and Karoli's responses, with further keyboard and guitar overdubs like sets of dark clouds gliding across the sky, periodically ruptured by bass thunderbolts. ʽLike A New Childʼ uses the guitar only sparsely, for thin supportive lead lines and occasional gentle pings, as life largely takes place at the intersection of the steady rollin' bass and (this time the white rather than dark) clouds of Schmidt's keyboards; the result is almost an ambient soundscape that kind of gives an idea of what Future Days may have sounded like had they thought of doing something like that in 1969. And while I cannot say that the title of ʽGive The Drummer Someʼ is completely justified (Liebezeit is really no more active there than everywhere else on the album), the groove, completely devoid of any memorable theme as such, still creates magical tension — Czukay's overdubs of isolated guitar lines and keyboard bits, where anything might jump out at you at any given moment of time, show the old master's hand as efficiently as anything.
Mooney's contributions remain the most questionable elements — I do not mind the aging or weakening of his voice, since he almost never used it for conventional «singing» in the first place, but it does occasionally come across as grating, particularly on ʽRomanceʼ, where the stereotypically «Jamaican» lamentation bits do not mesh well with the music. Something like ʽThe Withoutlaw Manʼ will produce different impressions depending on how much you are ready to not take this deconstructed tale of a well-known gun seriously — Mooney sounds more like a babbling village idiot on that one than a diplomated shaman, but ignore him or come to terms with him, and behind that there's still a cool groove and a great «twirling» guitar line from Karoli that's got some of that «bluesy slyness» to it, for no particular reason but still feeling good.
Perhaps the critics were mostly appalled at the idea of such an obvious musical joke as ʽHoolah Hoolahʼ, whose music and lyrics really fit in better with the likes of Weird Al than one of the world's most revolutionary musical bands. But even as a musical joke, it still got a hell of a poisonous guitar tone and a hilariously «Near Eastern» dance melody executed on Schmidt's organ, and besides, musical jokes had been in Can's repertoire for quite some time now; did ʽCan-Canʼ fail to already prepare you for this? Plus... it's catchy. Sort of.
Anyway, by the time we get to the somewhat ambiguous conclusion of ʽIn The Distance Lies The Futureʼ (a musically and vocally confused track that pretty much indicates nobody has any real clue as to what that future might be, and I concur), I feel convinced that there was a point behind the reunion. I'm not sure what that point was, exactly (other than the obvious «we still Can»), but the album never feels like a bunch of washed-up has-beens desperately trying to rekindle the old unrekindlable magic. It never feels like a totally self-assured and contemporarily relevant bold musical statement, either, but it... well, in the overall context it also gives this feeling of well-roundedness, where the band has come full circle, and its long, strange trip eventually brings them back on the same platform from where they skyrocketed twenty years back. Now they can really pack it up and go home with one last reassuring thumbs up — and, indeed, there's never been any attempt at another reunion ever since (not that it would have been even technically possible since Karoli's demise in 2001, but that's actually a different matter).