“Monster Movie” by The Can - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1969Album Chart of the Decade: 1960s

TJR says

After a false-start with an album rejected by various record companies, this Köln-based quintet wasted no time in getting their first long-player out there when the chance finally came, recorded in July 1969 and in the shops just a month later. Aiding their cause greatly was the fact that they had been able to build up their own small studio at Schloss Nörvenich, a local 12th century castle, thanks to the support of Irmin Schmidt’s art-collector friend, Christoph Vohwinkel. At the time of release in August ’69 they were: Irmin Schmidt (32, keyboards); Holger Czukay (31, bass); Michael Karoli (21, guitar, violin); Jaki Liebezeit (31, drums) and Malcolm Mooney (20s, vocals). 3 of the key members were coming from the world of the avant-garde classical; Schmidt was a composer and conductor, Czukay was a music teacher and Karoli was a pupil of Czukay. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit was a disenchanted free-jazz drummer and out front was Malcolm Mooney, an African-American sculptor from New York with a menacing stage presence and an unorthodox range of vocalizations.

All five were slaves to rhythm and repetition – together they were a mighty proposition. In Karoli’s words they were “a geometry of people”. A trip to New York in 1966 had “corrupted” Schmidt – his mind wandered to the possibilities within the rock world; the imitation of primitive sounds with ethnological influences was the cornerstone of the masterplan. Karoli was on the same page, finding much to be inspired about in the work of the Velvet Underground in particular. That key early influence is apparent on the primitive and aggressive opener “Father Cannot Yell” which must have been a major buzz for the would-be-punks of ’69. Every single group member plays a blinder – Mooney’s vocal is very much part of the rhythmic whole, memorably using the key-phrase “hasn’t been born yet” over and over. Bassist Holger Czukay revealed that this was the first piece to be recorded, adding: “We thought more of a collapsing building in slow motion pictures than becoming heroes on our instruments. Everything was spontaneously recorded by “instant composition”.” As a statement of intent, this blazing-hot mighty-mantra was a helluva starter.

By some way of contrast, “Mary, Mary So Contrary” takes a slowcore breather, and surreally reimagines the Jimi Hendrix Experience as the world’s leading exponents of nursery-rhyme rock. They sure are different. “Outside My Door” is a bit of a harmonica-fuelled garage-blues rocker, with some great mod-riffage and one of the punkiest vocals ever laid down in Europe thus far. Taking up the entirety of side 2, “Yoo Doo Right” provides something completely different to close the album, as Holger Czukay explained: “It was an unusual long piece of music at that time with a rhythm which did not belong to the world of Rock 'n Roll. It seemed more to be played by an electric tribe band with adequate instruments of that time.” The whole piece is absolutely mesmeric and there’s never a dull second in the whole twenty minutes – a testament to the engaging brilliance of these restless adventurers. Mooney’s fragmented lyrics are directly sourced from a letter from his girlfriend in the States who is missing him. His boys are with him all the way on some sort of progressive dub-tip – the Can tribe feel this angst as one. Together, they are incredible. This is an awesome debut.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [07:06] 9.7.png The Can - Father Cannot Yell (Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt, Malcolm Mooney) Trance Rock
A2 [06:21] 7.2.png The Can - Mary, Mary So Contrary (Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt, Malcolm Mooney) Moodcore
A3 [04:11] 8.0.png The Can - Outside My Door (Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt, Malcolm Mooney) Proto-Punk
B [20:27] 9.6.png The Can - Yoo Doo Right (Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt, Malcolm Mooney) Trance Rock

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