Holger Czukay - Cinema album review

Twists galore in blockbuster box set from late Can man

Holger Czukay - Cinema album artwork

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It’s always a slight surprise to see that NME’s best albums of 1980 list featured – below Joy Division’s Closer at No. 1, but above canonical works from Talking Heads, Bowie and Springsteen – Czukay’s Movies, which dominates this box set, at a giddy No. 5. While a cult hero up to his death last September, the German pioneer of sampling, ambient and world music sounds was never a full-on “star”. Tributes paid to him since have emphasised his importance as an inspiration and key collaborator, from co-founding Can through his solo sojourns and work with everyone from David Sylvian to Jah Wobble to Eno.

This chronologically constructed five-album retrospective cherry-picks from his post-Can career, adding an unreleased 1960 tidbit, and ties in with what would’ve been his 80th birthday and Can’s 50th anniversary. (There’s
a 36-page photo-booklet, and the vinyl version offers a “vinyl video” and other visual quirks.) The Danzig-born provocateur worked in a radio repair shop as a teenager: one pictures him twitching the dial, falling in love with juxtapositions and unexpected sound clashes. Throughout this collection, we hear a man restlessly running between genres and often inventing new ones. One minute we’re experiencing post-Krautrock, or arty Roxy cabaret; the next it’s like The Clangers are having a bash at opera before a psychedelic dub groove takes over.

Work as/with Cluster, Les Vampyrettes (with Conny Plank), Jaki Liebezeit and Ursa Major feature, while 1981’s gleeful, mischievous On The Way To The Peak Of Normal is almost as centre stage as Movies. There’s nothing in this selection from the Sylvian collaborations for those of us pop kids who first came to his work via that route, but Czukay always coined his own language. The best way to learn it is to let its description-defying murmurs and mash-ups wash over and into you. Pulsing, warping, trickling, whistling – he paints the big screen between your ears with Technicolor dreams.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.