Monster Movie & Delay 1968

Released on Spoon CD 004 & 012
Reviewed by Serotonin, 18/12/2001ce

"As long as Can plays SOUL they are unbeatable", said the great Conny Plank as Holger Czukay was dusting off the tapes that became "Delay 1968" in the early '80s.

Most fans will agree there were four Cans: in reverse order, the funky, reggae inflected world-music pioneers of the late '70s; the immediately post-Suzuki fluid Euro-funk of the mid '70s; their uber-psychedelic Damo Suzuki zenith; and this one that these two records cover: a primal, grinding fuzz-rock cauldron of the possibilities of VU-trance and garage rock, re-configured by the newly-formed group and vocalist Malcolm Mooney.

I'm primarily a fan of Soundtracks-through-to-Future-Days Can, but this one can't be ignored. The developing mantra-rock that would be tightly leashed to its full potential in the Suzuki era is unleashed all over the place here, spilling superfuzz guitar solos (R.I.P., Great Innovator), throbbing organ and clattering rhythm everywhere.

Let's start with Father Cannot Yell, which opens Can's debut record Monster Movie. This was one of the most exciting pieces of music ever for me to be exposed to when I bought this album. Someone once wrote about Joy Division being like a reverse negative image of punk rock, and it's equally applicable here. This is everything that was great about late '60s primal rock, but in reverse negative too. It's like rock 'n roll upside down and inside out. As Czukay's bassline drives the track along, it seems to follow no logic but its own, twisting and turning but somehow managing to keep everything together. Michael Karoli picks his own way through the VU's "I Heard Her Call My Name" with the brilliant shards of guitar that pierce and stab at your senses. Likewise the ear-shattering alarm bells that Irmin Schmidt evokes on keyboards. And what the hell is Mooney singing about? Like Suzuki, figuring out "lyrics" isn't the point; the vocals here are exciting and propulsive as hell.

Next up on the record is another stroke of genius from Mooney, putting his own spin on a kids' nursery rhyme. "Mary Mary So Contrary" is a slower-paced piece, but with another screaming, blueswailing Karoli solo over the top. Can dig further in to some sort of blues roots on "Outside My Door", with added harmonica sound. Here Mooney's lyrics are worth close attention. In an era of Vietnam, Black/White Panthers, he retorts that "any colour is bad". Mooney's audible paranoia was only too real, and would eventually become his undoing, as he came under increasing pressure to return to his native US and join black militant groups.

On to side two of "Monster Movie", then, and the side-long mantra "Yoo Doo Right"(sic). The piece came about from an improvisation by Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit over which Mooney sang phrases from a letter from his girlfriend begging him to return to the States. Edited down (rather messily in a couple of places, but on such primitive recording equipment that can be excused) from about an hour and a half to 20 minutes, "Yoo Doo Right" builds and builds, rises and falls, and casts its hypnotic spell into beautiful, emotive soul music. Jaki Liebezeit's drumming is pure heart-thumping tribalism throughout, looking forward to trance-outs like Halleluhwah.

Mooney's tenure with the group may have been sadly brief, but fortunately these four tracks are not all that remains of his legacy to the formative years of Can. In the early '80s, Holger Czukay put together a collection of 7 more pieces from the Mooney era as "Delay 1968". Not a strict definition, as a couple of tracks date from late '69 just before Mooney's nervous breakdown and departure from the group, but anyway, on to the music...

Much of "Delay" is even more PRIMITIVE than "Movie"; PURE primal rock 'n roll from musicians just figuring out from their own instincts how to do it themselves from the groud up. "Butterfly" kicks off the album, screeching and grinding into life, an awesome, ominous piece of dark foreboding, twisting together into a more trancelike state by its conclusion. It's followed by the bizarre 26-second "Pnoom", which sounds like it's got lost on its way to a Frank Zappa record, but it's an interesting enough diversion anyway.

Can then try their hand at some Sly-style superfunk. "Nineteen Century Man" sounds like it's struggling to be propulsive enough to be truly funky, but this seems to be largely due to poor recording/mixing conditions at the time. Karoli's fantastic guitar on this one is fortunately in the foreground though. The next track, "Thief", is more gorgeous soul; fantastic lyrics, aching lead guitar. Radiohead covered this one when I saw them last year.

"Man Named Joe" and "Uphill" are more prehistoric primal rock; the sound of a band still finding their way, but doing so with unshakeable force and conviction. These tracks sound a lot like The Fall in a way. "Delay" ends with "Little Star of Bethlehem", which is a brilliantly atmospheric track that builds up with ghostly taped vocals in the background, propelled on and on by some of Mooney's best nonsense lyrics. The great Can at their dawn hold many treasures.

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