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Can - Tago Mago CD (album) cover

TAGO MAGO

Can

 

Krautrock

3.92 | 438 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
2 stars The unsettling soundtrack to a lunatic asylum

Can's "Tago Mago" is my first experience with Can who I avoided as a strategic move for years. Krautrock can be incredible as I have noted with German acts such as Ash Ra Tempel and Faust. I absolutely understand why Krautrock is so popular as it is as outside the box of mainstream rock as you can get and I love the original approach, the repetitious hypnotic grooves that lock into your subconscious, the high strangeness, but it is not easy to digest and to get hold of a double album of Can is dangerous, as we should all be aware, as they were experimental and downright weird, and an acquired taste with a cult following. When I bought some Gong years ago, the owner of the small, specialist shop asked if I had heard of Can? I replied, Who? Since then I have slowly discovered them, or rather Can have gradually revealed themselves to me. And now here is 'Tago Mago', that is an iconic piece of Krautrock in every respect and should be respected in this regard. But is it enjoyable? Shouldn't music be enjoyable? Or why bother listening to it? I embarked on this journey with Can simply due to their notoriety, but I will never be a Can fan. I can never enjoy this no matter how important the album is to the genre. Here are my ideas about this music.

I heard 'Paperhouse' on a 70s TV performance and the band look weirder that the music. The background was a shimmering psychedelic design that enhanced the trippiness of the vibe. The bassist and Damo the Japanese vocalist are shirtless and black hair hangs down over the face, like a shroud; the guitarist wears an open jacket and looks like The Thing from "The Addams Family", just a mass of hair; the drummer is a woolly hairy beast with a tie-dyed red T shirt; the organist is a hjppie type with beard, glasses and ponytail that is immersed in his music, pounding his keys like bongos; what a clan Can were, looking like they all fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. You know they didn't care a damn about what anyone else was doing, they were just unashamedly Can and of course garnered a huge underground cult following as a result. The music was totally, insanely original and not for the faint hearted. 'Paperhouse' is psychedelic, repetitious, mesmirising music. "You just can't get back no more!" I think Damo sings at the end over and over and the music slows to its conclusion. Great to hear English lyrics from Can too, although they burble the weirdest gobbledygook on other tracks.

'Mushroom' is short, repetitious and ends on a nice explosion.

'Oh Yeah' begins with an apocalyptic sound effect, a mushroom exploding and sizzling similar to the front cover illo that always reminded me of a face vomiting spaghetti. The backwards vocals are disconcerting but you expect that from Can; it is never easy listening. The highly experimental vibe is present throughout, the rhythm is strong, pounding bass and drums and a spacey guitar sound. The guitars sound warped and disquieting, perhaps out of tune in places. The vocals tend to sound as though from a lunatic; perhaps the mad utterings of a deranged mind. Madder than Magma!

The hypnotic drum of the ultra rhythmic 'Halleluwah' is mesmirising, and the guitar solo that attacks the rhythms is a treasure. There are effects towards the end on keyboards that shimmer and shine, and the partly nonsensical vocals eventually cease for the lengthy instrumental break to close it down. One whole side of vinyl captured this classic of repetitious hypno beats and swirling madness. Impossible to describe the effect this track has on the ears; it simply gets in to the head and you are hooked. The vocals return at the end in high falsetto echoed by high pitch guitar. The vocals eventually become pure jibberish as if words are useless ("annananananananonnnonannananannawall") but it somehow makes sense in tune to the musical metrical patterns. Its all psychedelic mumbo jumbo and probably is best heard on acid, but i was never into that scene. I can still appreciate this track. Best thing on the whole album and worth listening to as a prime example of Can's best work. It features on Can compilations such as "Anthology" and the "Cannibalism" albums, albeit in a 6 minute edit which destroys the overall vibe of the hallucinatory rhythms.

'Augm'. Indescribable. So I won't bother. You will know what I mean if you hear this wacked out mantra. Words can't do it justice. And it takes up an entire side of vinyl. "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugggggggg gggggggggggggggmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm".

'Peking O'. A bizarre organ and clattering guitar and echoed estranged voices; that's just the beginning. Not too bad and very different to other music I have heard, a little disturbing and spaced out but I don't mind that. I am familiar with psych prog and this is similar. The experimental nature of the music is compelling and acid heads would love this. The screaming vocals are annoying but thankfully its not all the way through. The shimmering weirdness ceases and a rumba beat locks in with bent guitar sounds, and almost Chinese soundalike effects are heard. The piano runs are interesting and almost manic. The eccentric vocals become nonsense, whispering gobbledygook. I love how the time signature changes dramatically. The oddball vocals are harsher in this section it sounds as if he is saying, "this is good this is good" but I dare say that's not the case. The bizarreness goes up another level with frantic piano and improvised noise, we won't call it music at this point in the piece, as its chaotic, and there is screaming, babbling and painful tortured wails. How people took this nuttiness in its day I have no idea, but it must have scared the living suitcase out of listeners unprepared. Even if you are prepared you will either laugh yourself sick or be utterly disgusted, there's not much room for any grey areas with this type of music; actually its laugh out loud hilarious. The crazed lunacy really gets disturbing when a high pitch beam drags out and burns your eardrums, how many listeners must urgently reach for the sound volume I could not conceive of here, it is excruciating. The great dramatic drum echoes begin and rattley clanky noises resound, that are chilling; this is creepy, demented stuff, not to be played after midnight as you lie in bed staring at shadows; or on second thought.... The volume rises, the tempo quickens, it sounds like a vacuum cleaner whine, or an airplane engine, and a drum bangs incessantly, mercilessly, and a murderous voice cries out in dementia. Ferociously original, and non conventional certainly, but not one you want to return to often; too weird for its own good. These guys are out of their tree and proud of it. I won't be returning to this too often lest I go completely insane.

'Bring Me Coffee or Tea' ends the album. Slide guitar, a hypnotic melody, a one chord structure is the best way to describe its free form feel. It features some great drumming patterns, almost tribal like. So it ends without fanfare or finale. My feelings are that this was an album with a groundbreaking, pioneering new style of music, appealing to a certain target audience of the 70s. It would have socked listeners and still shocks today. "Tago Mago" is bizarre, and moving completely outside the box to produce high strangeness is one thing, but who actually enjoys this? Perhaps the challenge is to try and enjoy this although it is not designed for enjoyment but is art for art's sake; it simply exists to question, to ponder, is it music or just what is it? You have to find an audience that will accept it, and that's a whole 'nother thing altogether; Can found an underground audience and now it has value as a piece of history.

My opinion now, beyond the historical significance. Unless you are a fan of disturbing insane prog, give this a wide berth. It was interesting as a curio of early Krautrock, but that's where it begins and ends for me. This album is obviously going to garner very strong reactions and some may hate it, some may like it; I am kind of combined with a love hate relationship on this. Which is more than I can say for the detestable weird art music out there such as Bjork, or Yoko Ono. Can is nowhere near as bad but... sorry, I am just not interested in being bombarded by insane burbling and improvised twangs. Magma are as far as I am prepared to go in that regard. I will award "Tago Mago" the 1 star for its iconic Krautrock status, and 1 star for the audacity to produce it. Definitely for collectors. Believe the hype; this is beyond bizarre.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 2/5 |

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