Can – The Singles

Can – The Singles

Whilst 2012’s bounteous previously unreleased rarities-laden boxset, The Lost Tapes, gave the impression of being the last word on Can archive-raiding projects, there have remained a few loose-ends for those needing everything in the band’s recorded oeuvre neatly in print.  Although the group’s BBC sessions and more top-quality live recordings would have seemed like more obvious choices for the retrospective assemblage treatment, the unflashily-titled 23-track The Singles instead wraps-up practically all of the A and B-sides from Can’s seven-inch single releases into one neat bundle instead.

Whilst there is inevitably a lot of overlap with the Krautrock kings’ main catalogue – with only a handful of recordings not featured on the readily-available albums –  this compendium is perhaps more revealing and worthwhile than it first appears.  To start with, for an ensemble known overwhelmingly for epic-yet-focused jam-based constructions (seamlessly tape-spliced-together by bassist Holger Czukay mainly) chopping their more sprawling songs into piecemeal portions is no small feat.  Yet that’s what the band successfully achieved in squishing down so many seemingly unshrinkable songs into enthralling three to four minute 45rpm presentations, which few outside of Germany and beyond latter-day Discogs-diggers have heard.  Those of us who fell somewhat belatedly into the Can wormhole off the back of 1994’s still-essential Anthology compendium will know that some of the band’s compositions can work perfectly well, if not occasionally better, in judiciously-edited incarnations.  The difference between Anthology and The Singles is that latter’s track lengths are even tighter and the cuts cover an even broader chronological range.  Hence, the early and more heralded Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki ‘classic’ years are given almost as much space as the group’s later multi-voiced and instrumental work, which will be illuminating to those whose Can LP collections often cease after 1973’s Future Days.

Sequenced in no-nonsense linear running order, the overall Can career trajectory flows remarkably easily across this compendium.  The curtain rises with the brief but still vital Mooney-led period – courtesy of the bone-dry clank and prowl of “Soul Desert” and the minimalistic soulfulness of “She Brings The Rain” (both from 1969) – before a thick of spread of material from the Suzuki-fronted phase.  The latter leads us through dark electro-acoustic enigmas (“Spoon”); two terrific and deservedly rescued non-album cuts (the Tortoise-predicting “Shikako Maru Ten” and the joyous Sparks-meets-Funkadelic-frugging of “Turtles Have Short Legs”); majestic menacing tribal rhythmscapes (“Halleluwah”); varying degrees of nervy desperation (“I’m So Green”, “Vitamin C” and “Mushroom”); and slinky motorik bliss (“Moonshake” and “Future Days”).

Going past the Suzuki-epoch wares admittedly leads to more uneven pastures but there are still plenty of forgotten pleasures; with guitarist/violinist Michael Karoli and keyboard maestro Irmin Schmidt sharing most vocal duties.  Thus, we move through the violin-adorned baroque-funk of “Dizzy Dizzy”; the rambunctious jazz-flecked “Splash”; the just-about-forgivable prog-twiddling of “Vernal Equinox”; the infectious subverted-disco delights of actual chart hit “I Want More”; the equally as hook-laden Remain In Light-anticipating globalist grooves of “Don’t Say No”; and the voodoo beats mash-up of “Return”.  A few things fall flat – specifically the murky oddness of “Hunters And Collectors”, the synth-framed cod-reggae of “Cascade Waltz”, the frankly just silly reinterpretation of the “Can Can” (no, really) and an odd wordless rendition of “Silent Night” – but for the most part these lesser-known mid-to-late-‘70s Can nuggets get a fairer than usual hearing on The Singles.  Proceedings close on a clunky note with the sole representative from late-‘80s reunion record Rite Time, with Mooney back at the microphone for the plastically-produced carnivalesque “Hoolah Hoolah”.

Taken as whole though, The Singles is a strangely satisfyingly testament to the belief that most great musical ideas – even those delivered with such wilfully uncommercial and unconventional intent – can still be boiled-down to fit on one side of a 7” slice of plastic.  Moreover, this collection also acts as a fitting tribute to the recently departed Jaki Liebezeit, whose impervious and innovative drumming drives so many of the finest moments rounded-up within.