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SOON OVER BABALUMA

Can

 

Krautrock

3.59 | 138 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Anyone wanting a deeper understanding of what made CAN such a powerful band, and not only within the narrow circle of classic '70s Krautrock, should ponder the fate of Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki. The two CAN vocalists (not merely "singers", please take note) each had to leave the group at the prompting of a higher authority: Mooney ending up all but chained to the psychiatrist's couch, and Suzuki disappearing within the apocalyptic embrace of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Now, I don't want to suggest that the music had any link with their later mental and / or emotional crises, but clearly this was a band circulating somewhere high above the usual rock 'n' roll circus of sex, drugs, and three-chord boogies.

The first album after Suzuki's abrupt departure found the band, in 1974, reduced to the core of its original quartet: Jaki Liebezeit, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, and Irmin Schmidt, playing, respectively (but like the members of GENTLE GIANT, not exclusively), drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards. On paper it looks like a normal enough line-up, but consider their separate backgrounds. Czukay and Schmidt were students of 20th Century avant-garde classical music; Karoli was an early fan of the Beatles; and Liebezeit was schooled in the near-noise of Free Jazz and other arcane ethnic rhythms (including, some whisper, forbidden voodoo drum rituals).

With a combined pedigree like that, it's no wonder CAN was such a musical force of nature. And all those influences were put into play here, in what could have been an unsettling period of transition, but turned out to be a career peak (that same year, they performed an epic, near 13-hour overnight concert in Berlin).

The album opens with the cool German-Jamaican vibe of "Dizzy Dizzy", the first of several flirtations with reggae, more examples of which would surface in the upcoming "Limited" / "Unlimited Edition" albums. "Come Sta, La Luna" sounds not unlike a tour of Fellini's Rome in La Dolce Vita, with Irmin Schmidt's voice (thankfully) masked behind a thick screen of electronic camouflage. And the instrumental "Splash" (a companion of sorts to the likeminded but mellower "Spray", off the previous "Future Days" album) is an absolutely ferocious improvisation in 7/8 time (I think), featuring the distorted sound of Karoli's treated violin, flying like shrapnel around a typically busy Jaki Liebezeit percussion volley.

But all the remaining musical barriers are well and truly broken on the final two tracks: "Chain Reaction" and "Quantum Physics", actually a single, uninterrupted 20- minute tour of inner and outer space. The titles are more literal than you might imagine, recalling an atom-age combo of Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer, Max Planck, and Werner Heisenberg (with Einstein calling the tune, of course).

It begins with a hypertense dance groove beamed down from some far-flung alien discotheque, which after ten minutes gradually dissipates into a long, proto-ambient euthanasia chill-out, maybe the best sonic illustration of infinity since Pythagoras first heard the Music of the Spheres. The subtly shifting auroras of Irmin Schmidt's keyboards, with Jaki Liebezeit's quietly percolating electronic percussion, would later spark an entire generation of sound sculptors and high-tech navel gazers (THE ORB, BIOSPHERE, you name 'em). But the original role model, one of several from Germany in the 1970's, is still spellbinding, even allowing for the restrictions of its relatively primitive two-track recording technology.

The album proved to be the last in a cycle of classic CAN recordings dating to before the turn of the decade. The next step would be a contract with Virgin Records, access to multi-track recording facilities, and even a Top-30 hit single two years down the road. All achieved at the expense of their original musical alchemy, say diehard fans. I don't entirely agree, but no one can argue that "Soon Over Babaluma" put the final edge of gilt on an already sterling reputation.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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