The Lost Tapes
Released: Monday 18 June 2012
Can one have too much of a good thing? There's no question that the music of Can, the supersonic band of 70s Krautrocking hippies, is a very good thing indeed, but does even the most ardent Can fan need this three disc set comprising rehearsal tapes, live recordings, studio jams and forgotten soundtracks? As is typical of the Krautrock aesthetic, it feels like little has been done to edit or tidy up here.
The improvisational approach worked so well for Can largely because of the sheer talent of core members Irmin Schmidt (keyboards), Jaki Liebezeit (drums), Michael Karoli (guitars) and Holger Czukay (bass). Combining experience gained from workng in rock, jazz and the avant-garde, together they tended towards densely rhythmic, transcendentally funky freak-outs and mantric explorations of kosmische music.
Fronted initially by American sculptor Malcolm Mooney and then, after Mooney suffered an on-stage breakdown, Japanese busker Damo Suzuki, the music Can made went largely unnoticed at the time but has proved so powerfully influential to generations of musicians since that they now inhabit that rarefied cluster of seminal cult bands which includes The Velvet Underground and Teutonic contemporaries Kraftwerk.
For serious fans (and surely it is only we who shall desire this compilation?), The Lost Tapes provides some real treats. Firstly, it includes seven previously unheard tracks featuring vocals from Mooney, whose style was generally more aggressive and commanding than Suzuki's, although both favored rapid-fire repetitions of cryptic phrases. He first crops up on disc one's second track 'Waiting for the Streetcar', an excellent 10-minute psych-funk workout which could happy sit on any early Can album. Then there's the shorter, even funkier, seriously intense 'Deadly Doris'. Sample lyric: "Sexy, sexy, sexy, sexy Doris is dead". It's pretty amazing.
There are plenty of gems here. Disc one's opener is an utter corker. 'Millionenspiel' is a cosmic-charged surf-rock boogie, complete with effortlessly cool, shimmering guitar, trippy flute-led intermission and smokey sax solo. Even knowing the extent of Can's genius, it's something of a revelation. Quentin Tarantino should put it in his next film.
Elsewhere, the 16-minute-plus 'Graublau', dating from 1969, gives an insight into just how tight and ferocious this band was even in its early days. Not everything here is as vital: As much as one might appreciate the humour of it, do we really need to hear 'The Agreement', which consists of little more than a flushing toilet? And if you can make through the eight minutes of whining noise and ambient sound that is 'Blind Mirror Surf' more than once, well, you're doing better than me.
It's probably true that one could edit these three discs down into two more coherent, less rambling ones, but is that really in keeping with the free-wheeling spirit one experiences on, say, the excellent acid-rock of 'Buble Rap'? The whole point, surely, is to have everything, all the craziness and inventiveness Can were capable of summoning at their peak?
Of course as they went on, following the departure of Suzuki, Can became a little more refined, even scoring something close to a hit in the UK with the freaky disco groove of 'I Want More' in 1976. 'Barnacles', recorded towards the end of the band's original life, is less frenzied but as strong as anything they ever did, a synth-drenched, loose-limbed funk odyssey full of superlative musicianship. One thing this compilation restates (if it even needs restating) is what an unbelievably amazing drummer Jaki Liebezeit is. The man is basically peerless.
As well as the studio material, we also get extended live workouts of 'Spoon', 'Mushroom' and 'One More Saturday Night', each one straying from, returning to and weaving seamlessly in and out of the structure of the original. Hearing the audience clap along to 'Spoon' is a particularly great moment. These tracks, however, also highlight the fact that Can were often more of a conventional rock band live than on record, giving the 70s audience what they wanted in the form of extended guitar solos.
Taken together, the music here reminds us that Can, that semi-mythic band of cosmic hippies who came out of nowhere, culturally speaking, to influence generations of music makers, were not always perfect. Just like any other band, the recorded some substandard stuff. However, for its high points, this three disc set is indeed a must have for any serious Can fan. If you're yet to get into the groove, so to speak, with this band, go and get Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and download 'I Want More'. Then, if you're feeling brave and have some time on your hands, get The Lost Tapes. Like the best bands, Can are waiting for you to discover them.
And, thanks to Mute, here's a free download from The Lost Tapes for you to enjoy: