Review by Stuart Douglas
Yeah, it’s that Can album. The one with no Holger. The one that nobody had a good word to say about for years. The one Can themselves disowned.
And, before Ned starts to panic, I’m not about to sit here and claim it’s an unjustly neglected work of genius. Late era Traffic bassist Rosko Gee – who wrote all the songs, provides the vocals and plays Holger’s bass throughout, like some Jamaican Denis Waterman – is not a singer and there’s nothing on here which would ever be included in anyone but his mum’s Can Top 10. But it’s not unlistenable.
As literally ever reviewer ever has already said, it’s lacking the freeform grooviness of Can’s best work and missing the lyrical and vocal madness provided by Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki (witness Gee’s vocal on the second track on side 1, ‘Pauper’s Daughter and I’, where he tries his best to sound like one or other of them and fails miserably). But there is stuff to like in here, even if there’s nothing actually to love.
The album opens pretty well with the jazzy instrumental ‘Serpentine’, featuring some great guitar work from Michael Karoli, but sadly that’s followed up the disco sounds of ‘Pauper’s Daughter’. Yes, Can do disco! Which should be great, but inexplicably really, really isn’t. The final track on side 1, ‘November’ is another Latinesque jazz instrumental, which goes on a bit too long and veers a bit too close to Santana (by no means the only song to do so on Out of Reach) for my liking – but there’s some nice piano work and Gee’s bass playing is actually pretty decent here which means that compared to some of the horrors on side 2, it’s a thing of beauty.
So much for side 1. So what’s so terrible about side 2?
Well, it starts off bland, which is something I never thought I’d say of Can, with the band launching into full on Prog by Numbers in opening track ‘Seven Days Awake’, then wandering into ‘Give me no Roses’ with more Gee vocals. I actually don’t mind this slightly disco, slightly funk, pretty MOR nothing of a song. But while it’s certainly not the worst song on the album, it’s the least Can song in their back catalog, just a vapid slice of nowt much.
Sadly, ‘Like INOBE GOD’, which is up next, actually has been described as the worst Can song of all time. It’s a contender certainly, with it’s weird Latin dance/calypso backing and Rebop Kwaku Baah (the other newish arrival from Traffic) half muttering, half singing his ‘wordmelody’ (yes, that’s exactly how’s it’s described on the back cover) somewhere in the sludgy mix.
And finally we limp to the end of the only album not to get a plush cd re-release on Spoon in either 1989 or 2006,with ‘One More Day’, actually starts promisingly with some decent drumming and spacey sounding synth noises, but then fades away into silence, just as I was beginning to hope the album would go out with a bang.
I’ve no idea why this album is called ‘Out of Reach’, incidentally, but I like to think it’s due to a moment of self-awareness, when Mr Gee realised that without Holger Czukay any attempt to replicate the Can sound was…you guessed it…