Delay 1968 is an unreleased collection of tracks recorded prior to the band’s 1969 debut and released much later in 1981. Intended initially as the band’s first LP, labels shied away, causing Can to shift gears slightly and try again. Some of the record’s seven tracks surfaced here and there on bootlegs, with the best of the bunch -- “The Thief” -- getting an official release on a compilation in 1970.
The record further establishes Can’s reputation as proto-punksters while also elevating Malcolm Mooney’s importance both to early Can and suggesting even more of an influence by him over the “classic” Damo Suzuki-led lineup that followed his departure.
“Butterfly” opens with a grungy, droning sound that like other early Can points back to the Velvet Underground and ahead to Metal Box-era Public Image Limited. A modest organ stars during the first half of the tune, then percussion steps up for the latter half while Mooney chants about a dying butterfly.
“Pnoom” follows, a goofy bit of Beefheart-like sax squonking that got included in the band’s “Ethnological Forgery Series” of odd fragments. “Nineteen Century Man,” a suitably primitive-sounding jam with nonsense lyrics sounding vaguely accusatory (of a “nineteen [sic] century man” who is behind the times?).
“The Thief” ends the first side, the most melodic and pleasing track on the LP. Has a doom-laden vibe the urgency of which matches the singer’s lament (“why must I be the thief?”). Radiohead spotlighted its debt to Can with intense live performances of “The Thief” (one is included below).
The second side starts with a noisy one about a “Man Named Joe” that sounds excerpted from a longer jam. “Uphill” comes next, probably the most Velvet-sounding song on the record (that not incidentally sneaks in the adjective “velvet” multiple times modifying various nouns). Finally “Little Star of Bethlehem” recounts a strange, surreal meeting between two characters named Froggy and Toady.
There’s historical value here, but as I noted in the previous review I’m much more in favor of following Can’s story forward into its “late” era prog masterworks than to forage around too much back here before the beginning.