The Lost Tapes
Released: 06/18/2012 | Label: Mute |
Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a burned CD of The Beatles' White album. It was his preferred sequence of about half the tracks - a double long-player with diversions and digressions that was now condensed into an all-killer, no filler single album.
At first I was aghast. How dare anyone try to improve on a masterpiece by the fucking BEATLES? It was jaw-droppingly arrogant. But as I listened to it, it also made a lot of sense. It was, actually, much more fun to listen to, more immediately gratifying.
Cassettes gave birth to the mixtape, but when CDs arrived the listener became much more of a participant in the musical experience, able to instantly arrange or skip songs as they saw fit. Of course, this substitutes the listener's preference for the artist's intended listening sequence, but if you've heard an album dozens or hundreds of times you've earned the right to pick and choose the songs you like.
In the case of a 3-CD collection of unreleased material, such as Can's The Lost Tapes, the band never sequenced the songs in the first place, so there's no such conflict (Can founder and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt put the tracks together, but he was the only original member to have
such input). Only a lunatic would listen to all 30 tracks on The Lost Tapes every time they wanted to delve into the collection ("The Agreement" is essentially just the sound of a toilet being flushed), but the more sane among us could easily put together a tracklist that would rival the Krautrock maestros' legendary 1971 double LP Tago Mago in terms of thrills, spills and freakouts that still sound innovative today.
Not that the compilers at Mute Records haven't given the sequencing a lot of thought - the opener, "Millionenspiel", meanders in abstract noise for almost a minute before leaping into life with a frenzied bass-driven blast that must already have Quentin Tarantino planning a film sequence around it. Next up is "Waiting for the Streetcar", just over 10 minutes' of mantra-like chanting and syncopation devastation that features original Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney - an American who was eventually advised to leave the band by a psychiatrist for the benefit of his mental health. "Streetcar" certainly pushes repetition to the limit, but when it ends with an energetic flourish that would have done the early Velvet Underground proud, you're sorry it has to end.
Most of these songs from the vaults have aged well, although some aspects of the period haven't - wearing sandals with socks, attempting to use flute and saxophone in an avant-garde rock context, for example- but the majority of these songs are damned exciting to hear for the first time, especially the longer, more convoluted ones. There are six ten-minute-plus musical meditations on The Lost Tapes, but Can usually had a keen sense of appropriate duration, and most of them don't outstay their welcome. The band used to record for hours on huge spools of tape, editing the resulting sounds into songs and slices of experimental music. Even some of their 15-minute pieces were distilled from much longer jams - essentially they would let their innate chemistry do the work and collate the results. The remarkable metamorphosing of "Graublau" is a prize example - 16 minutes and 47 seconds of a band locking in and becoming infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. The similarly lengthy "Dead Pigeon Suite" and "Abra Cada Braxas" on the second disc occasionally threaten to veer off intovesoteric irrelevance but constantly shift shapes and regain their force.
The spielers at Mute Records have been keen to stress that these songs are not outtakes that were intentionally discarded by the band in their heyday, but unreleased material that deserves to be taken on its own merit. Nonetheless there are similarities between some of the new pieces and others that have previously seen the light of day (in addition to their studio albums, Can released several albums of "lost tapes" from their unfeasibly large vault in the late '70s). There are numerous noodling oddities such as "Evening All Day", "When The Darkness Comes" and "EFS 108" that bear listening to only once out of curiosity, but that does not diminish the sheer joy of hearing outbursts of invention like "On the Way to The Mother Sky".
There are just three concert recordings on The Lost Tapes, and although two ("Mushroom" and "Spoon") featured on a reissue of Tago Mago last year, these are markedly different versions from different performances - all of which make you wish you'd been around to see Can create their alchemy in the flesh in the 70s (special mention must be made of drummer Jaki Liebezeit and his ability to follow any tangent his bandmates embarked upon).
There's no denying that three CDs of this Can material is overkill, but would you rather have trusted Schmidt and Mute to put out a single CD, or have the pleasure of tailoring it yourself?
Don Simon's Lost Tapes tracklist:
2. Waiting for the Streetcar
3. Midnight Sky
4. Deadly Doris
6. The Loop
7. Abra Cada Braxas
8. Messer, Scissors, Fork and Light
9. On the Way to Mother Sky
10. Oscura Primavera
11. Spoon (live)