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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Can: The Lost Tapes

CAN: THE LOST TAPES (1968-1977; 2012)

CD I: 1) Millionenspiel; 2) Waiting For The Streetcar; 3) Evening All Day; 4) Deadly Doris; 5) Graublau; 6) When Darkness Comes; 7) Blind Mirror Surf; 8) Oscura Primavera; 9) Bubble Rap.
CD II: 1) Your Friendly Neighbourhood Whore; 2) True Story; 3) The Agreement; 4) Midnight Sky; 5) Desert; 6) Spoon (live); 7) Dead Pigeon Suite; 8) Abra Cada Braxas; 9) A Swan Is Born; 10) The Loop.
CD III: 1) Godzilla Fragment; 2) On The Way To Mother Sky; 3) Midnight Men; 4) Networks Of Foam; 5) Messers, Scissors, Fork And Light; 6) Barnacles; 7) E.F.S. 108; 8) Private Nocturnal; 9) Alice; 10) Mushroom (live); 11) One More Saturday Night (live).

A whole can of Can here — actually, three cans of Can, which is way more than can be canned in one can-sitting session. Apparently, these tapes were not so much Lost (because nobody ever really missed them) as they were Found, covered with dust somewhere in the depths of studio cabinets, after the original Can studio was sold and dismantled in the early 2010s. Thirty years ago, nobody would probably have bothered, but these days it's a bit different, and besides, it's not like Irmin Schmidt probably had a lot on his hands, either, so he set out to clean them up, digi­tally remaster the best of the 30-hour-plus recordings, and ultimately came up with about 3 CDs worth of material largely from the «prime» years of the band: actually, the earliest track here dates from 1968 and the latest one from 1977, but the main bulk comes from 1969-72, and in any case, the whole thing is just one big Eldorado for the loyal fan. (I assume that, since the tapes were «lost», they weren't even bootlegged, but I am not too sure).

Reviewing the whole thing is quite a challenge, though: on one hand, there's so much, yet on the other hand, nothing here reveals anything particularly new about Can. As it always happens with their archival releases, chronological sequencing is considered to be an insult and the different tracks are spliced together in a seemingly random fashion — not to my liking, because the best thing about such retrospective collections is usually the «historical curve», yet here we travel back and forth in time as if the driver were under some serious intoxication. Since I have no knowledge of Schmidt and Co.'s masterplan for this sequencing and wouldn't agree with it even if I did anyway, here's a few random notes on various tracks grouped together by chronology.

(A) 1968-1969, the Mooney years. This has the single worst track of 'em all — ʽBlind Mirror Surfʼ, a proto-early-Kraftwerk sonic experiment with electronic tones, feedback, and atonality that my ears cannot stomach: if you ever thought the second half of Tago Mago could sound ugly, wait until you hear this mess (honestly, it sounds like it was rather inspired by John and Yoko's Two Virgins than anything Cage-ian or Stockhausen-style in origin). Yet it also has ʽMillionen­spielʼ, a fast, tight, choppy R&B instrumental with a fascinatingly grim bassline (I think it has pretty much the same chords as Metallica's thunder-riff for ʽFor Whom The Bell Tollsʼ), flute and sax interludes, a whole bunch of different acoustic and electric guitar tones, and, on the whole, sounds not unlike something that Booker T. & The MG's would be quite willing to play. There's also two massive jams, the vocal-accompanied ʽWaiting For The Streetcarʼ and the wordless ʽGraublauʼ, that are every bit as good as anything on Monster Movie (ʽGraublauʼ is actually noisier and heavier than almost anything from that period — there's few tracks on which you will hear Schmidt torturing his keyboards Keith Emerson-style. Maybe they did not officially release it because they did not want people confusing them with The Nice).

(B) 1970-1973, the Suzuki years. There's actually almost nothing from 1970-71, for some reason, except for a somewhat disappointing ʽOn The Way To Mother Skyʼ — perhaps the title means that it was the first part of the jam that eventually resulted in ʽMother Skyʼ, but although the track features frantic tribal drumming from Jaki and a great guitar solo from Karoli, it is too hysterical and does not have the calculated coolness of ʽMother Skyʼ proper. The bulk of the material comes from 1972, and includes probably the highest point of the collection — a magnificent 16-minute long live rendition of ʽSpoonʼ, which begins with a rather loyal reproduction of the single (unlike the highly mutated version on Live 1971-1977) and then is transformed into a super-tight jam that simply becomes more and more aggressive and intense with every minute. Another highlight is ʽDead Pigeon Suiteʼ, which incorporates soft «folk-prog» passages, with gentle piano, chimes, and jangly guitars, only to blow 'em up around the 6:30 mark by suddenly turning into a James Brown parody, and then into the polyrhythmic groove that would eventually separate itself from the rest of the track and become ʽVitamin Cʼ on Ege Bamyasi. Come to think of it, had they included the entire suite on that album, it might have done wonders for its diversity factor.

(C) 1974-1977, the post-Suzuki years. This is the smallest, but not the most insignificant part of the collection, as long as we agree to not discriminate against the «silver age of Can».There's at least one mega-monstrous jam here that sometimes, in terms of volume and production, reaches almost orchestral proportions (ʽNetworks Of Foamsʼ); much of its quieter section is wrapped around the interplay between Karoli's wah-wah guitar and Schmidt's «bubbling» keyboards, creating the effect of taking place underwater, so that it is easy to visualize the entire suite as the brief life, underwater exploits, and eventual catastrophe of a brave little submarine, or something like that. The chronologically final track, ʽBarnaclesʼ (from 1977), is a dark funky jam that would have easily fit on Saw Delight, but they may not have found it atmospheric or catchy enough.

The important things to remember are this — the collection is diverse, the collection is well re­presentative of most of Can's sub-styles, the tracks are marvelously mastered for a bunch of tapes that spent more than thirty years gathering dust, and the whole thing is clearly a must-have if you know and love your classic Can. Yet, on the other hand, it opens no additional universes (not surprising — the tracks weren't, after all, left in the cabinets just because somebody forgot where he put them), it's got some real filler (especially some of the shorter ditties and links that I was too lazy to mention), and the entire package may not be worth all that money if you buy it at the regular price. Then again, I suppose that the grumbling is just the usual kind of grumbling that I grumble out against 90% of archival releases — but the appraisal, on the other hand, is the unexpected and unpredictable part, and the highest compliment that The Lost Tapes could tech­nically get from me is that I sat through all of them twice, without interruption (that's more than 3 hours of music, to be sure), and, except for occasional brief bits and ʽBlind Mirror Surfʼ, honestly enjoyed all of it.

So, obviously a thumbs up, although I am not sure I will be so pleased when The Lost Tapes Vol. 2, comprised of leftovers, or, God forbid, The Complete Lost Tapes (Deluxe Expanded Special Edition), con­taining all 30 hours, will end up on the market — which is probably inevitable in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. A little insight on the first track: 'Das Millionenspiel' was a Movie made for German TV:
    Watch it if you can.