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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Can: Unlimited Edition

CAN: UNLIMITED EDITION (1968-1973; 1976)

1) Gomorrha; 2) Doko E; 3) LH 702 (Nairobi/München); 4) I'm Too Leise; 5) Musette; 6) Blue Bag (Inside Paper); 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.

Can had originally opened their vaults as early as 1974 — with an LP called Limited Edition that was, appropriately, limited to a few thousand copies and targeted at the hardcore fanbase they had developed. Two years later, the collection was expanded to the size of a double album and re-released as Unlimited Edition, even though the fanbase did not exactly double in size over the 1975-76 period. However, in May 1976 Can were no longer on the cutting edge of experimental pop music, and were probably thinking in earnest about the systematic preservation and protec­tion of their rich legacy... and so, here you go.

Frankly speaking, much of this record is crap. But what can you expect of chaotic odds and ends, salvaged from years of hunting after inspiration in the confines of a recording studios? Some days there's plenty of game (and it usually ends up on your regular albums), and some days it's just a bunch of meaningless, emotionally uninterpretable sound collections (and that's what usually stays in the vaults). And even if something there does make sense, it is still going to sound infe­rior compared to all the stuff that you trusted far enough to polish for official release.

Many of these snippets come branded as parts of «Ethnological Forgery Series», whose ironic title suggests that these are parodies / avantgardist imitations / deconstructions of various genres of world music — thus, ʽNo. 27ʼ, with Suzuki on vocals, is built around quasi-deep-folk-Japanese singing; ʽNo. 7ʼ and ʽNo. 11ʼ are quasi-Near Eastern pastiches; ʽNo. 36ʼ is a take on New Orlea­nian jazz; and ʽNo. 8ʼ is a percussion-only bit of pseudo-Caribbean fun. These are all short, fun, usually pointless, and always harmless — but I couldn't say the same about the 17-minute long ʽCutawayʼ, where similar and other snippets have been sewn together into one large and totally incoherent sheet of short grooves, mood pieces, and studio hooliganry. Without any central unifying theme, mood, or purpose, the very title ʽCutawayʼ certainly surmises ʽThrowawayʼ, which should have been its real title, even though I'm sure there must be people out there who'd swear by this as the ultimate Can experience. (I'd take the amateurish, but sincere experimenta­tion of the studio half of Ummagumma over it, though, any day).

So is there anything here of real worth? Actually, yes: several tracks represent more or less com­plete experiences, and could make respectable companions to regular albums from the respective era. Namely, from the Monster Movie period we have ʽThe Empress And The Ukraine Kingʼ, an absurdist funky rave with Mooney at his fussiest and some kick-ass guitar overdubs from Karoli; ʽMother Upduffʼ, a bizarre spoken tale of one family's unforgettable European adventures that sounds like a cross between similar tales by the Velvet Underground and The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp; and two perfectly reasonable pop songs (ʽConnectionʼ, with a Stonesy vibe, and ʽFall Of Another Yearʼ, with some truly autumnal-mood interplay between Holger's bass and Karoli's acoustic guitar).

The Suzuki era is represented less adequately; from the peak years, only ʽTV Spotʼ, with its re­lentless paranoid groove and one of Suzuki's most comprehensible vocal performances, stands out, but I don't really see any place for it on Tago Mago. However, ʽGomorrhaʼ from 1973 would definitely have fit on Future Days, and I am actually sorry not to see it there — with those sad, distant, ghostly slide guitar wails and echoey crescendos it is as otherworldly evocative as the best stuff on that album, and might indeed be the best composition here (which is probably why it serves as the album opener — to lure you into a sea of ultimately broken promises). Finally, the album ends with two later tracks that are at least intriguing: ʽTranscendental Expressʼ, completely dominated by a lead banjo part, sounds like psychedelic deconstructed country-western, and the lengthy ʽIbisʼ from 1975 shares the creepy nighttime mystique of the best tracks on Landed, even if it's a bit of an overkill at its nine minutes.

The best spots for these individual tracks, though, would have been bonus slots on the respective albums — taken together, they do remind us of the vast scope of this band's interests and of its refusal to be strictly tied to any conventions, but they do not exactly kick the ground from under your feet; and as for all the short snippets in between, it is not clear to me if they add to the awe­inspiring brilliance of the Can kaleidoscope or simply act as irresponsible nuisances, preventing you from dedicating your complete attention to the good stuff. In any case, I suppose that this is pretty much what anybody would expect from an album of Can outtakes — diversity, unpredic­tability, and a total and utter lottery when it comes to spiritual impact.

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