CAN: TAGO MAGO
A “landmark release in the history of rock ‘n’ roll” – MOJO Honours List winner of Classic Album Award
“stunning” – John Lydon
“sounds only like itself, like no-one before or after” – Julian Cope
“mind expanding” – Q
“The music was like nothing I’d ever heard before, not American, not rock & roll but mysterious and European.” – Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream
I’ve heard them name-checked a thousand times by a thousand contemporary bands, but have never heard one note of their music. At least I don’t think I have. Everyone from The Fall, to Primal Scream, to Tortoise to Bjork to Pete Shelly to John Lydon, from Brian Eno to David Bowie and a billion others have praised this band up and down for decades. I’ve been burned before, buying albums sight unseen just because other bands I love cited them as an influence (Soft Machine…Uggghhh!), but my track record of late has been pretty good so…
…I finally broke down and bought the 40th anniversary edition of their 1971 album Tago Mago the other day. I felt it was about time, you know? They’re weird, they’re jammy, funky and…German. I know, the Krauts (no offence) aren’t known for their funk chops, but these dudes are phunky! After a couple of spins they kind of remind me of early Funkadelic mixed with Pink Floyd, and maybe GONG. As far as contemporary influences go I’d have to say Ozric Tentacles and the jazzier explorations of Primal Scream. Tago Mago is one of their more famous albums. I say ‘famous’, but it was ignored by everyone upon it’s release and is still virtually ignored by everyone except for the folks over at Pitchfork (who rate it a perfect 10) and musicians. It was a double album with only 7 songs with 3 over the 11 minute mark. Sounds like a prog album, but it’s not.
“Both “Mushroom” and “Oh Yeah,” the latter with Schmidt filling out the quicker pace with nicely spooky keyboards, continue the fine vibe. After that, though, come the huge highlights — three long examples of Can at its absolute best. “Halleluwah” — featuring the Liebezeit/Czukay rhythm section pounding out a monster trance/funk beat; Karoli’s and Schmidt’s always impressive fills and leads; and Suzuki’s slow-building ranting above everything — is 19 minutes of pure genius. The near-rhythmless flow of “Aumgn” is equally mind-blowing, with swaths of sound from all the members floating from speaker to speaker in an ever-evolving wash, leading up to a final jam. “Peking O” continues that same sort of feeling, but with a touch more focus, throwing in everything from Chinese-inspired melodies and jazzy piano breaks to cheap organ rhythm boxes and near babbling from Suzuki along the way. “Bring Me Coffee or Tea” wraps things up as a fine, fun little coda to a landmark record.”
It’s not an album I’ll have the luxury of playing all the way through all that often, because even though I’ve spent limited time with it I can already pretty much tell it’s one of those albums that demands total immersion. What I’ve heard so far I’m diggin’. Not as much as I’ve been digging Funkadelic, but close. The live disk is no great shakes. They never are, but the liner notes, the booklet and the packaging overall are first rate. I wouldn’t give it a 10/10, but it rates at least an 8, and maybe, given some time, even a 9.