Even in the wild whorl of kraut rock — as Germany’s progressive psychedelia of the late ’60s and ’70s was known — Can stood apart. As older academics steeped in neoclassical, free jazz and electronics, they came at rock from the outside; with a healthy disregard for convention, Can played rock music as if it were a fascinating toy to be taken apart, fiddled with and then cleverly reassembled to new specifications.
So there is some conceptual basis to Sacrilege, a double CD that subjects Can’s work to the recombinant technology of 16 remix units. There’s no excuse, however, for having such unbound originality cookie-cuttered into the generic clatter of today’s electronic clichés. If this is the homage of distinguished students ready to put their faders where their fandom is, then Can’s most important lessons about independent thought have been lost. By trimming away most of the vocals and by stressing rhythms, Sacrilege rewrites history, stamping Can as little more than techno/dance music forebears.
Brian Eno, in his infinitely tasteful wisdom, leaves “Pnoom” (from Delay 1968) more or less intact, doubling its 26 giddy seconds of squonking-duck horns with bonus beats. Similarly, Sonic Youth scrawl noise-guitar graffiti all over “Spoon” (from 1972’s Ege Bamyasi) while preserving the song’s structural essence. But other acolytes are content to select a component — like the rubbery bass line favored by A Guy Called Gerald in “Tango Whiskeyman” — and build an undistinguished, unrecognizable dance track around it. These nouveau platters may sound chic, but the real deal comes straight from the Can.