Sunday, September 10, 2017

Too good to leave to the critics: Can and I Want More

In the space of nine months, we've lost perhaps rock music's greatest rythym section in Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, the engine of late 60's/70's German experimenters Can.

The best attempt to explain Can I've ever read (annoyingly I can't remember the writer responsible) basically says this: on paper you'd expect them to be a band only a critic could love, but they're so annoyingly good they're wasted on music nerds.

And as someone at least half-way to music nerdery, I'd agree with that wholeheartedly.

Yes, Can sometimes noodled on for 15 minutes or more in the way that prog rockers often do. Yes, their members included students of avant-garde composer Stockhausen, hardcore jazz musicians and non-singers taking a turn on the mike. Yes, they liked a bit of music concrète.

But from all these influences and their collective talents they jammed out, and then tightly edited, a bunch of short tracks, which if you squint at them a bit funny, are some of the best experimental pop songs of the 70's: Spoon; Vitamin C; I'm So Green; Moonshake and I Want More, their solitary UK hit in 1976. Don't believe me? You Tube is currently streaming latest their singles compilation, so see for yourself.

The longer, more experimental tracks can be great too, but that's an argument for another time.

The other thing that helped Can break down barriers is that they were very, very funky indeed: Jaki Liebezeit stripping down jazz technique down into a series of endlessly unfolding drum loops; Czukay's bass - never two notes where one would do - holding down the groove and creating space for the other players. 

This love of funk and jazz meant they were also unlikely early adopters of disco rythyms on  I Want More (listen here).

Eminently danceable, for three and a half minutes it comes on like the best sort of mutant glam disco. These ears find echoes of War's Me And Baby Brother (a belated UK hit earlier that year), which might just be me, but perhaps also indicates the ballpark Can were aiming for here. By this stage in their career, they didn't have a steady lead vocalist, so I Want More also features all the band chanting the lyrics in unison to slightly sinister effect like a German Funkadelic.

And if you think there's a lot of repetition of the title in the chorus, I direct you to the B-side ...And More, which extends the workout to a full seven minutes, bongos and all. Bliss.

Postscript: I discovered Can when I was out as a foreign language student in Germany, thanks to a fellow student who offered to make me a compilation cassette, which I subsequently wore out exploring the streets of my university town with my Walkman. I'd heard nothing like them before, and to some extent still haven't. So if by some miracle you're reading this, thank you Ralf for this game-changing gift. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment