For a music geek, the re-mastering of an album to revive the sound quality of the initial vinyl release is the equivalent of being handed a duffel bag of concert schwag and being told to go nuts. But others might call it pretentious. Retooling the master tapes just to pull the sound out of our digital age and place it back into its intended and arguably better vinyl era? What hogwash.
For a second, though, let’s break our skepticism and awaken our inner music geek to appreciate the brilliance of Can’s sound-of-vinyl-reviving reissues on Mute. Enhanced the most by this change is the band’s uncanny ability to drive as one body. All members move at once, even if they aren’t playing. This is captured wonderfully on these reissues. The re-mastering job looks not to isolate and enhance each instrument but to channel richness in tone through the unity of the compositions.
Last in a streak of three classic albums, Future Days, originally released in 1973 after Tago Mago (1971) and Ege Bamyasi (1972), marks the final time the band would work with signature yelper and backward-nonsense spitter Damo Suzuki, whose voice appears muddled throughout the album. Though most of the musicians’ parts melt into each other, drummer Jaki Liebezeit’s riffs roll and roll in a manner that sounds as if he loses his beat at least fifteen times a minute when, in actuality, his rhythmic ear and four-way coordination is so metronomically advanced that it’s beyond comprehension (“Spray” and “Bel Air”).
A year later, Can dropped Soon Over Babaluma, a lazy, occasionally violin-rich endeavor that feels more like cultural wandering than the grand melting pot of the band’s past. Other than the adrenaline jazz of “Splash” and the polyrhythmic stomp of “Chain Reaction” — so, other than half the album — Can seems to be looking for the proper way to proceed after Suzuki’s departure. If not for the two duds at the beginning, the band’s just about there.
For 1975’s Landed, Can had gotten its hands on a sixteen-track, which finally allowed the group to flush out its already full sound with even more delightful excessiveness. Featuring solid spazz-fest action (“Vernal Equinox”) and Can’s descending four-chord progression (“Hunters and Collectors”), Landed saves its peak until the end, when “Unfinished” winds down after surly noise collages into a soaring final minutes that could rival the grace and magnitude of any John Williams big-budget score.
Unlimited Edition, originally released in 1976, is a compilation of forgotten studio work from 1968-1975. Featuring Suzuki and the group’s oft-forgotten original vocalist, soulful American Malcolm Mooney, the release tests the extremes of Can’s infatuation with fringe music. Most fascinating in this regard are the five tracks from the Ethnological Forgery Series, in which the band reinterpreted world-music styles. The tracks show the band’s curious playfulness with such diverse music styles as Dixieland trumpet on “EFS No. 36.” With most of Can’s classic releases hinged on cohesive sounds, Unlimited Edition is a scatterbrained change. The jumps between styles can be a little maddening, especially when simple songs such as “Connection” and “Fall of Another Year” pass by leaving too brief a taste of the band’s early pop-songwriting talent.
With this second batch of four reissues (Monster Movie (1969), Soundtracks (1970), Tago Mago (1971) and Ege Bamyasi (1972) were released in November 2004), Mute has again scrapped the option for extra songs, instead juicing the liner notes each with an essay and loads of hippie pictures. Still, the sound is the best they’re going to get in the CD realm. And if your inner music geek gets the best of you, you’ll learn to accept the albums’ faults, swoon over their triumphs and live your future days with headphones for ears.