Can‘s most legendary period of activity ended when vocalist Damo Suzuki—the group’s second frontman—left the helm. In the scheme of the band’s catalog, however, that’s an era of just four albums, and the remaining quartet continued on for several years thereafter, evolving and transforming in much the same way they did since forming in the 1960s. When Suzuki left the group, vocal duties were split between guitarist Michael Karoli and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt. Likewise, the band took the opportunity to record instrumental tracks in addition to their vocal ones. Can’s progression didn’t end, and their compositions were no weaker from having Suzuki leave the group.
The band’s sixth studio album, Soon Over Babaluma, judging by the title and cover alone would appear to be assimilating to the prog rock norm. However, Can’s music remained innovative and ahead of its time in spite of any hints of astronomy in their window dressing. Soon found a slightly different Can, but a competent and enjoyable one. Karoli’s vocals on opening track “Dizzy Dizzy” were still weird, which likely assuaged any fears that fans may have had at the time. Over a groovy, bouncy melody, Karoli chanted more than sang, with the slight touch of reverb giving him an odd echoing whisper effect.
Schmidt, too, strayed from convention in his vocals on “Come Sta, La Luna.” Singing through bizarre effects, Schmidt haunted the song more than commanded it, which seemed to be more Can’s style anyway. The song featured a horror-movie piano melody, giving it a spooky aura that matched Schmidt’s vocals perfectly. But on “Splash,” one of two instrumentals, things were altered quite a bit. Sounding more like a free jazz song than rock, the band married squealing violin and a near-Dave Brubeck keyboard line. The band was certainly accomplished musically, and though they did start veering into wanky territory, never got too obnoxious about it.
The giant song on this album, titled “Chain Reaction,” clocks in at eleven minutes. It’s only about half as long as “Bel Air,” Future Days‘ closer, yet still stands as one of the group’s most accomplished classics. Jaki Liebezeit’s percussion, as usual, takes center stage during a large portion of the song, getting funky to the point of incorporating the rhythms of Afrobeat. Meanwhile, Holger Czukay offers some funky bass of his own, while Karoli freaks out on his violin. Yet, the song morphs into a more accessible funk-blues song with Karoli’s vocals at the front again.
The final track, “Quantum Physics,” is a more free, exploration, something the band practiced freely, though this composition was far more loose than many of their previous works, wrapping up Soon Over Babaluma with a hint of Can’s future, though it would prove to be mostly a tease. Still, Karoli and Schmidt proved to be more than competent singers, even though the band’s vocals were never really the main attraction in the first place. With or without Suzuki, the band was determined to make another great addition to the catalog, and they succeeded in doing just that.
Label: United Artists/Mute/Spoon
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.