Precious Metal

Ground-breaking German space-rock remastered by bass player Holger Czukay

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The reissue of can’s first four albums charts the course of a band blasting their way through rock’n’roll and right out the other side. “Father Cannot Yell”, the opener of 1969’s Monster Movie, sounds like a band shedding its debt to the Velvets and Pink Floyd and evokes the same abrasive energy as Jonathan Richman’s “She Cracked”. By the time we get to “Pinch”, the opening track of 1972’s Ege Bamyasi, the music explodes with all the intensity of Miles Davis’electric units of the same period.

Can’s precepts were remarkably simple. Improvisation and jamming were elevated to guiding principles, while soloing was kept to a minimum. Having two decidedly non-rock vocalists (ex-GI Malcolm Mooney, followed by street busker Damo Suzuki) helped to propel them to the outer reaches of abstraction. Thirty years on, it’s Jaki Liebezeit’s drumming that still astonishes. At a time when most rock percussionists needed a NASA control console to find their way around their kit, Liebezeit sat coiled behind the kind of minimal set-up that wouldn’t have disgraced a Fisher-Price monkey in a toy shop window display. Playing without ego or embellishment, he is the spinal cord that runs through this music. One of the reasons that Sacrilege, the Can remix album of 1997, produced such mixed results is that no one has yet figured out a way of programming a drum machine to play with such skeletal, blanched beauty.

And did a band ever wear its learning more lightly? Unlike Zappa, say, who often played the big-classical-fish-in-a-little-rock-pool a tad too self-consciously, this group of formidable theorists felt it necessary to unlearn the trappings of their conservatoire training. As a result, these ground-breaking albums contain some of the most organic vanguard music you’ll ever hear without using the words Trout, Mask and Replica.


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