Can fans always seem to arguing over which era was better – the Damo era or the Malcolm era. The Malcolm ones seem to particularly want to state this, often being their second bit of information after telling you they like Can. I guess there has been a tendency in the UK press to focus on Damo-era Can, with “Tago Mago” and “Ege Bam Yasi” always making the classic album lists and “Monster Movie” usually overlooked. To me, though, both eras are the essential era of Can and “Soundtracks” for me is the perfect Can album because it combines both.
You have what is reputed to be Malcolm’s final recording with Can, “Soul Desert”. His voice sounds stretched to the very edge of its limits. Given Can’s habit of editing down long jams, he could well be at the end of a jam session that has gone on for literally hours. Whatever the reason, his scorched delivery really invokes desert dryness and the sparse tribal groove the band lock into behind him is another classic tight Can groove
“Don’t Turn The Light Off, Leave Me Alone” is purported to be Damo’s debut and sees the band lock into a similar, paranoid rhythmic skitter like “Soul Desert” but the change of vocalist changes everything. It is not a question of “better” because Damo and Malcolm are so different as to make comparisons obsolete. They have such radically different vocal styles then throw into the mix their equally different cultural background and language. I would argue the reason for Malcolm’s second position owes more to the fact that there was not even two albums worth of material available by him until 1981’s release of “Delay 1968”.
Can did a lot of soundtrack work, for both film and television, so “Soundtracks” cherry picks the highlights and arranges them in a very intelligent tracklist. Only the opening theme from “Deadlock” and it’s later instrumental reprise really seem like obvious soundtrack compositions. Everything else just feels like a song Can recorded. “Tango Whiskeyman” is an irresistibly charming song with Damo’s gentle vocals at their most poppy and Jaki at his most toe-tapping on drums.
However, the real killing blow for “Soundtracks” is how it all ends. “Mother Sky” is fourteen and a half minutes of utter devastation. Probably the most scorched, searching guitar work Karoli ever released. Here sounds like he is unpicking the skies with his fingers. Underneath that, Holger and Jaki fuse into an inhuman rhythm machine playing some secret, primal, snapping, tribal stomp. When Jaki begins unleashing drum rolls, it is physically impossible not to move in some way. The whole rhythm insinuates its way into your body and takes over in a manner that would be frightening if it wasn’t so pleasurable. Damo sings softly over the top finding exactly the right words to articulate what is going on, like some gentle shaman. Irmin, sneaks in making his keyboards sound like electric shocks. It is a musical bomb.
After that slab of sonic hyperventilation, “She Brings The Rain” comes in like a hot bath after a long journey. This song is unique in the entire Can catalogue. It is a jazzy little ballad. Holger Czukay plays a mellow jazz bassline while Malcolm Mooney croons a beautiful downer, his words sheer poetry. Karoli starts off playing a similar style and time around Holger’s bass but subtly changes gear as the track progresses, going higher and higher until by the end his reaching for the sky once again but never dominating the song. The result is just sublime melancholia. This is a song for walking by yourself in the rain in a big overcoat.
Although the original sleeve proclaims that “Soundtracks” was not the second Can album, posterity has proved them wrong . Every song on here is an important part of Can’s discography.