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    Monster Movie( 1969 )
    Father Cannot Yell / Mary, Mary So Contrary / Outside My Door / You Doo Right

    Do right, you do right. A stoned, possibly mad acid head ( no evidence of which ) swaying, mouthing and ranting. Falling into the dream of the groove. Stable, rhythmic, cyclical, mesmerizing, matching. A needle on a piece of plastic, we’ve come a long way. Twenty minutes later, we can relax again. Um, what else? Well, four songs, 40 minutes. It’s a compact little album. A lot depends on whether you can ‘get off’ on the twenty minute plus ‘You Doo Right’. If you think you can, if you think this album sounds interesting, then please consider investing in it. 'You Doo Right' is a pretty amazing track for my money, especially the extended, utterly hypnotic drum sequence in the middle. As for Malcolm Mooney, shortly after recording this album, he had a nervous breakdown. The next Can release would therefore be rather transitional. Malcolm made his mark, though. 'Father Cannot Yell' is a superb showcase for his rantings and ravings, the groove the band kick up behind him absolutely perfect for an impressively insane vocal performance. Malcolm Mooney has been described variously over the years. The words nonsense gibberish are repeated fairly often and we can see why. Clearly made up on the spot lyrics, one of which is based on a nursery rhyme ( ‘Mary, Mary So Contrary’ ). He’s like a bad Shakespearian actor. During one of the many hypnotic stretches of music Can provide, Mooney starts shouting and desperately yelling ‘Mary, mary….’ making about as much sense as you yourself care to make out of it. So, without a message, what is Can’s message? To make music that’s different and to make music that isn’t boring, at least to themselves.

    Can, one of a number of European bands influenced by The Velvet Underground and ( motivated? ) pushed along by a lack of German culture after the war. With typical German efficiency, the Can rhythm section take the idea of ( 4/4 for example ) rhythm literally, creating hypnotic patterns akin to a stuck record stylus. An unintended groove keeping you under the influence for a few minutes until you get bored? With Can, the effect becomes deliberate ( it’s used plenty of times ) and sounds fairly scary. With sound quality and production values roughly akin to ‘White/Light, White/Heat’ by the Velvet Underground, ‘Monster Movie’ is no showcase of virtuosity. Taking into account Can’s American vocalist, they gain another twist to keep us interested. We need such things, especially during a twenty minute long track such as ‘You Doo Right’. What do you mean they made it all up as they went along? Well, yes. That's rather the point, isn't it? Improvisation, artistry and imagination. Fine qualities for any band to have, i'd have thought.

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    Soundtracks 8 ( 1970 )
    Deadlock / Tango Whiskeyman / Deadlock (Title Music) / Don't Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone / Soul Desert / Mother Sky / She Brings the Rain

    'Soundtracks' is a transitional release that witnesses the band between vocalists. The songs were commissions for several obscure independent german movies and both Suzuki and Mooney vocals can be heard. The Mooney tunes are 'Soul Desert' and the jazz-pop of the closer 'She Brings The Rain'. The former is a dirge with tuneless, anguished vocals. The latter is taken surprisingly straight and proves that Mooney can hold a tune of sorts if he wants to. 'Deadlock' is the opening Suzuki tune and isn't a million miles away from Can of 'Monster Movie'. It's impossible to make out what Suzuki is singing and the instrumental repeat of 'Deadlock' seems a rather pointless addition to the album. Not that this album was exactly what the band would have wanted to do, rather record company pressure forced the bands hand. This compilation of soundtracks served the purpose everybody wanted it to. Product in the shops for the record label, breathing space for the band. Anyway, so far so mediocre really. So check out 'Tango Whiskeyman' with a mellow Damo Suzuki vocals, bits of lyrics that can actually be made out and the whole song becomes a very strange German version of a Kinksian pop song. 'Don't Turn The Light On' is an early version of the kind of groove Can would soon be able to perfect. It's pretty cool and the songs i've mentioned so far, six of them, make up 21 minutes of playing time. The centrepiece of the album is still to come, the amazing 'Mother Sky'. That's another 14 minutes and it's the finest fourteen minutes of Can to date. A word about 'Don't Leave The Light On' first. I love the spooky, almost western melody that runs through it.

    'Mother Sky' is a sizzling jam that positively bristles with surging electricity. Not a hint of the blues, surging and stunning guitar work for the first two minutes or so before the Can groove is allowed to take centre-stage. Whispered vocals from Damo and more guitar as the track passes through several different sections. The drums provide an ever-present, never changing groove. The bass locks in and doesn't let go. Can are actually a very difficult band to describe or review, they don't provide the usual points of reference. Their music has proved to be hugely influential but it's impossible to pick out their influences. A slew of German bands formed around the late sixties, early seventies in a concerted effort to provide brand-new German culture. The addition of Japanese busker Damo Suzuki would be the final piece of the puzzle, an inspired additon. 'Soundtracks' by its very nature is a somewhat 'bitty' release but the finest moments contained herein point the way forwards to an exiciting Can future.

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    Tago Mago( 1971 )
    Paperhouse / Mushroom / Oh Yeah / Halleluwah / Aumgn / Peking O / Bring Me Coffee Or Tea

    An old fashioned double vinyl album lasting in excess of seventy minutes across a mere seven songs. This pushes three tunes above the ten minute mark with 'Halleluwah' and 'Aumgn' lasting a combined total of thirty five minutes, as long as many whole albums did at the time. The more approachable quarter of the album definitely comprises of the first three songs. They manage to even build upon each other, so by the time you reach 'Oh Yeah' the album appears to already be reaching some kind of culmination. 'Paperhouse' is a psychedelic monster with stabbing guitars and mumbling Damo Suzuki. 'Mushroom' has a steady, hypnotic beat and a chanting Damo Suzuki who then screams about despair. 'Mushroom' to me sounds like it invented Joy Division. When I saw mushroom head, I was born, I was dead - who knows what this actually means, but the hypnotic nature of the track and the alternate chanting and screaming of Damo turns such a simple and largely meaningless phrase into some kind of spiritual mantra. These first two songs incidentally are not even 'songs' as such and Can had no pretence of being songwriters. Instead, concentrating on rhythm, texture and electronics they sought to create something brand new. 'Oh Yeah' then builds on both of the opening tracks, incorporates backwards tapes, weird sounds and much else, all aboard a tight and groovy, repeating rhythm track. I love the way the guitar twists all around this rhythmic base. The drums are stupendous, you can strip away everything else in your mind right back to this drum pattern. Keep your focus on the drums, then 'allow' the other instrumentation back in, but retain focus on the percussion. Mind blowing stuff?

    Side 2 of the old vinyl then. Although this album is now contained on a single CD, it still makes sense to think of it in terms of four parts of a whole construction. 'Halleluwah' is a Damo tour-de-force. Wailing, shreiking, incoherant yet strangely fascinating. Another stupendous rhythm track is created, another hypnotic bed for the other fellows to jump around and mess with. Around the four minute mark, this really scary, buzzing guitar comes in. A train seems to arrive then silence. We get back on track. More of the same beats, repeating over and over as playful sounds decorate them. Special note for the subtle bass guitar variations around the six minute mark that propel the tune forwards. Violin played by someone who clearly can't play violin. Damo comes back in, circa the eight minute mark. It comes as some surprise, you forget all about him by that time. The rest of the song passes by with Damo stuff and more hypnotic surprises. It's great, stupendous stuff and the best track on the LP.

    Sides 3 and 4 become ever more experimental. 'Aumgn' is ambient/experimental and is Can with everything stripped back. Imagine 'Halleluwah' twice as long and without the drums and bass. What's left? The bits inbetween, the decoration and the noise and the chanting. It's very difficult listening. 'Peking O' is no easier on the ears, either. These two tracks will not make anybody a fan of the group, but within context of the album, they work, just about. 'Peking O' is the better of the two, with very demented Damo Suzuki screaming and chanting and scary music to match. So, to the closing 'Bring Me Coffee Or Tea'. We want the album to close right about now, yet also, weirdly, rewind back to the start and listen to it all over again. Another experimental piece, although with a more straightforward construction that the preceding couple of tracks. Lots of little pretty melodies and a soft Damo, lost in it all. It's good stuff. 'Tago Mago'? Not a masterpiece, too inconsistent. Like nothing else you've ever heard, which is a good thing. Many rate this as an all time classic and it was certainly influential on many bands that followed. It takes concentration and many listens to get into, but you'll be happy once you have got into it, certainly.

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    Readers Comments

    walt wdnervik@juno.com
    Although I like Tago Mago, I feel their next 3 albums represent their peak as a band and that Ege Bamyasi is like a more focused and concise version of Tago Mago and that Future Days will remain their Masterpiece that contains their greatest song Bel Air.

    I pretty much agree with your review. I think the first 4 tracks are brilliant! The drumming on Mushroom alone makes this album a must buy. However the 2nd half of the album (bar perhaps the final track...to a certain degree) loses almost all it's focus and delves perhaps too much into experimenting with textures of sound. Saying that it's probably my favorite Can album along with Delay and Monster Movie and fully deserves an 8.5 (borderline 9 maybe?)

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    this page last updated 3/10/07

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