Formed in 1968 by disciples of the Fluxus art movement and avant-garde electro-acoustic composer Karl Stockhausen, the Germany-based space-rock collective Can made chunky, chanting tribal funk that was cerebral without being stoic. Can drew on the Velvet Underground and was drawn on by Public Image Ltd., and subsequently, even if subconsciously, every punk-funk movement to date. The group continued making music throughout the decade, but crystallized the sound in Monster Movie (1969), Soundtracks (1970), Tago Mago (1971) and Ege Bamyasi (1972). All of those albums have been recently reissued as Super Audio CDs (SACD).
This is not your tinny Can. Any harsh sonic artifacts or dulled phrases from previous reissues have been buffed from these rotund, re-EQed remasters. Anchored by free-jazz-informed lock grooves, the members of Can appreciated ballast, but also delirious, ritualistic dissonance. The widened 'scape of Super Audio allows you to hear the group's quivering tension. The result is viscous, tacky and rubbery, especially on spasmic, screeching masterpieces such as "Mother Sky" (off of Soundtracks), and the long-heralded propulsive/convulsive couplet of the utterly indispensable Tago and Ege.
While Can was charging at music headfirst, laying schematics for a sound that still feels ahead of its time, many '70s musicians were making their mark as cartographers of the heart. Three '70s-period Eric Clapton reissues are now out, including Clapton's most emotive work as captured on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). That is the album he recorded with friends like Duane Allman using the name Derek & the Dominos. Layla is the sound of Clapton's heartstrings and steel strings getting tugged mercilessly, as he tumultuously coveted his friend George Harrison's wife. Now remastered again, Clapton's pleas sound so delineated, so spatially mixed, that at times you can almost hear an impassioned Clapton turn away from the microphone. The SACD Layla may not hit your chest with as sturdy and compressed a thrust, but it certainly "takes you there," which is the goal.
As for Atlanta's own Queen Mother, Elton, his Madman Across the Water (1971) -- one of six reissues -- is a good example of the '70s phase that found him at his most cinematic and symphonic (no, his later work for Disney does not count). As on Layla, the Super Audio multichannel mix utilizes the surround speakers to allow for a swell of orchestration. The effect places one almost in utero, wrapped in for supersaturated vignettes. But the approach isn't schmaltzy. It clarifies and rarifies the densely dramatic introspective balladry.
The '70s didn't have a lock on heady expression, however. When first released in 1994, Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral was acclaimed for its sonic flourishes and made infamous by its salacious videos and chief architect Trent Reznor's professed desire "to fuck you like an animal." The album's 10th anniversary release in surround sound, however, makes its alt/aggro mix come off even more formidable. It has gone from claustrophobic to apocalyptic, with noises sawing, searing and slithering their way around the soundfield. The remastering has given it precision without losing any spectral grit.
Admittedly, few people own CD or DVD players capable of Super Audio playback. But rest assured, the meticulous attention put forth to remaster these CDs results in a marked improvement, even in traditional stereo. Perhaps it's time for an upgrade.