One of the key bands to come out of Germany’s experimental scene during the 1970s, Can changed to face of music with their unconventional approach to rock. Taking inspiration from the likes of Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground, the Cologne-based group created their own unique style by blending together influences such as funk, psychedelia, jazz, drone, modern classical and musique concrète.
Widely known for sprawling jams crafted out of lengthy improvisational sessions, the fact that Can even released singles may seem a bit strange to some. However, they were also quite capable of producing fantastic unorthodox pop numbers. It’s a contrast which can be heard on their two most well known albums, 1971’s double LP Tago Mago and 1972’s more refined Ege Bamyasi.
A career spanning collection comprising of 23-tracks, the majority of which were released together as A and B-sides over a period of twenty years between 1970 and 1990, The Singles largely features the classic Can line-up of bassist Holger Czukay, guitarist Michael Karoli (1948-2001), keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and jazz drummer Jaki Liebezeit (1939-2017), with free spirited eccentric Damo Suzuki performing vocals on most of the key tracks, and original vocalist Malcolm Mooney appearing on just a handful.
Structured chronologically, the first couple of tunes ‘Soul Desert’ and ‘She Brings The Rain’ (both taken from 1970’s film work album Soundtracks) feature Malcolm Mooney on vocals and aren’t anything particularly special. Breakthrough single ‘Spoon’ (a Top 10 hit in Germany) introduces us to the spontaneous Damo Suzuki and thus the more recognisable Can material begins to appear. There are two lesser known tracks in the form of ‘Shikako Maru Ten’ and ‘Turtles Have Short Legs’, the former a cheery and quietly groovy little number and the latter a rather silly piano-led song which highlights their more humours side.
Sprawling Tago Mago centrepiece ‘Halleuwah’ and ‘Future Days’ (the title-track from Damo Suzuki’s final contribution) are both edited down from their album versions to focus in on their most accessible sections. Both of these bookend some of the finest cuts the classic Can line-up produced, most notably the positively infectious grooves of ‘I’m So Green’ and ‘Moonshake’. While ‘Vitamin C’ and ‘Mushroom’ on the other hand offer up a couple of psych-inspired numbers which lean more towards the eerie side.
The 12-tracks on the second half come from the post-Suzuki period and are a bit hit-and-miss. The jazzy mess of ‘Splash’ is easily the most challenging single they released, while polyrhythmic ‘Vernal Equinox’ isn’t exactly kind on the ears either. The highlight of the bunch has to be their unexpected disco hit ‘I Want More’ which lead to an appearance on Top of the Pops in 1976. Much of what comes after this though is proof that even the greatest talents eventually run out of ideas, with a whacky version of Jacques Offenbach’s 1840s composition ‘Can Can’ and the utterly dreadful ‘Hoolah Hoolah’ ending things on a sour note.
Given their experimental leanings, Can haven’t always been the easiest band to appreciate. However, as The Singles proves, the fact that they could be challenging didn’t necessarily mean that they couldn’t also be accessible and fun. It’s far from a perfect compilation but it still provides a very good career overview of this hugely influential German rock band.
Released: 16th June 2017
Label: Mute Records