Can - The Singles

by Larry Schiffman Rating:10 Release Date:2017-06-16

“Can can, and you Should”

Ok, I apologize for the pun. Let's jump into a review of Can – The Singles, due for release on June 16th. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the German group that somehow entirely escaped my consciousness until I stumbled on the opportunity to review this compelling retrospective.

One expects hyperbole when reading a press release; but even a casual listening confirms that descriptions including “a sound that transcended the boundaries of experimental electronic, jazz and modern classical music... influence extends from post-punk... through avant-garde... classical upbringing... musical eclecticism” are accurate. If this isn't enough, Wikipedia adds (here's a partial) list of artists and groups (in no particular order) that have confirmed the influence and their admiration for Can: Public Image Ltd., David Bowie, Talk Talk, Primal Scream, Pavement, Talking Heads, Radio Head, Brian Eno, Jesus and the Mary Chain, Oasis, Kanye West, Sonic Youth, and Spoon. There have been at least five bands whose names reflect their appreciation of what Can has done. Could all these people be wrong? Nope.

There are 23 cuts on the album and while they certainly do not fit into any sort of easily describable pattern, they share inventiveness, a feeling of improvisation, and diversity. Remarkably, nothing sounds dated. That is probably because of the obvious impact that they have had on genres such as New Wave, Electronica, Experimental, Ambient and Post-Punk.

Trying to neatly categorize Can is a waste of time. It is facile, but accurate, to say that at times, because of their latin rhythms and jazz roots, they sound like a cross between Santana and Steely Dan. There's a very strong percussion section (Listen to Halleluwah with what has been described, accurately mind you, with its “trance/funk beat”.) But then how do you explain Mushroom (covered by The Jesus and the Mary Chain and emulated by The Flaming Lips ), a song that is simultaneously sweet sounding and unworldly. Or what about a fairly straight rendition of Can Can which includes orchestration, German Oompah band references, and a couple of psychedelic guitar riffs. I dare you to listen to the song without cracking a smile. Or Silent Night, with solid bass accompaniment and toy piano, that is more joyful than reverential. Can somehow proves that music can expand upon the expected and happily veer off into wonderful new worlds. Just listen to Cascade Walz. It's impossible to not hear Carlos Santana in Don't Say No and Return, but Can still manages to put its own twist on the music.

Can flirted with commercial success, with several singles charting nationally. I can't help but think that the group was sometimes tempted to cash in with a more popular, simpler, easier to digest sound (Listen to Hoolah Hoolah and Turtles Have Short Legs, or the straight Disco I Want More); but the point is that everything they did, they did well. It is most likely that they were very honest and true to their classical training and concepts, and more concerned with how music effects our lives.

The group has been through a variety of splits, reincarnations, mental breakdowns, reunions, live shows, studio refinements of their improvisational licks, condensations of their renowned live rambling shows, deaths, and most recently in April and June of this year, major tributes celebrating Can's 50 years of distinguished (although the founding members may not have liked that word or ever believed that would be their destiny) contributions to music. The members have had solo careers, worked on compilations of Can music, produced a 17 LP collection box, and are the subject of a two volume biography to appear soon.

By all standards this was an important group of talented musicians. But I will ask you to throw away the hype. Forget what others have said or expressed about Can. Buy the album. Not only because it might fill some sort of void in your collection. Not only because Can deserved more popularity. Not only because it is great fun listening to how their music has influenced the future of music. Can – The Singles is simply a terrific collection of songs that defy classification, that provide greater levels of enjoyment with each listening, and that will stand the test of time.

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