Can, "The Singles"

Sunday, 25 June 2017 22:39 Creaig Dunton Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imageI must admit to still being a bit perplexed by this release.  Can, for all their greatness, were never really a singles band.  Most of those that were issued were edits of album material, so there is little exclusive material to be had here, barring said edits, which usually just remove material rather than presenting it in an appreciably different way, and a handful of non-album material.  However, when viewed as a career overview or sampler (something essentially replacing those Cannibalism compilations), it is a different matter, and the set provides a good opportunity to revisit the latter, often maligned recordings.

Spoon/Mute

In the matter of full disclosure, I have always preferred my version of Can the sprawling, chaotic one.  I have much more interest in another 30 minute version of "Spoon" or even potentially the full unedited "Yoo Doo Right" session than I do in hearing shortened mixes of songs I know.  While I can objectively appreciate a lengthy piece such as "Halleluwah" pared down to just a bit over three minutes as revealing its core, loop-heavy essence, it will never replace the side long Tago Mago version.  The Malcolm Mooney material is also somewhat underrepresented here, with just "Soul Desert" and "She Brings The Rain" appearing from his first tenure with the band.  Admittedly, those are probably the two strongest works he was involved in for Can neophytes, but it does not really do much to reverse the trend of underappreciating his contributions to the band.

Many of the other songs here, especially the album edits, seem odd and out of place if compared to their original forms.  Something like "Future Days," going from nearly 10 minutes to about three and a half is interesting, but not necessarily something I would prefer to listen to instead of the original.  Even something like "Hunters and Collectors" is excised of a minute of its album length, where the original would have been just fine as a single in its original form.  “Mushroom” gets a slight tweaking to remove the segues from "Paperhouse" and into "Oh Yeah" but thankfully stays pretty much the same otherwise.

There are only a few non-album songs to be had; from the early Damo Suzuki days "Shikako Maru Ten" and "Turtles Have Short Legs," both previously available on Cannibalism 2.  As someone who delved into Can's albums (skipping the aforementioned compilations), I  missed out on these two songs for a number of years.  I cannot lie, having "Turtles" here and remastered may make it it worth the price of admission alone.  Recorded during the Tago Mago sessions (it was the B side to the aforementioned edit of "Halleluwah"), it clearly did not fit in with the vibe of that legendary record.  However, on its own, it is one of the best Can songs ever, and like nothing else they ever did:  light hearted, jaunty, and even sing-songy.  It is ridiculously infectious and it is a song I can never skip over.

Another single-only inclusion, their interpretation of "Silent Night" (from the Flowmotion sessions) is less notable.  A mix of primitive synthesizers and music box melodies, it is a pleasant number, but not necessarily essential.  "Return," recorded during the Saw Delight era, fares a bit better with its polyrhythmic funk beat and heavy wah-wah guitar sound, but it still suffers from being in the post-Damo period of Can.  Speaking of which, I would have to say that is a strength of this compilation.  Taking it in as a collection, it does not feel like listening Can albums, so the latter day material does not suffer as if it is going to be judged alongside those high water marks like Monster Movie or Ege Bamyasi.  Taken on its own, a song like "Hunters and Collectors" is a unique bit of Teutonic Blaxploitation funk, and the blown out 50s rock sound of "Can Can” was more enjoyable than I remember it being on the 1978 self-titled album.  Even "Hoolah Hoolah" from the Rite Time reunion album of 1989 is a fun bit of schoolyard sing along music, and benefits from the reappearance of Mooney.

I am much, much more likely to just grab one of the original albums when I am in the mood for Can, rather than a single edit just so I can lament what was removed to fit on the old 7" vinyl format.  As a pre-made playlist for a road trip it might make for a nice overview of how the band's style changed and evolved.  I would be hesitant to go with the standard recommendation of using a compilation such as this to introduce someone to the band, since I would not say that these single versions are representative of who Can was and what they did.  However, having this around to ponder just why turtles have short legs (since they are not for walking) is not necessarily a bad thing.

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Last Updated on Monday, 26 June 2017 10:24