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Can - Tago Mago CD (album) cover

TAGO MAGO

Can

 

Krautrock

3.96 | 669 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I first encountered Can on the various-artists compilation Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era, which included "Oh Yeah" in its entirety. It wasn't the kind of song I'd skip when listening to Disc 2 of that collection, but unlike songs on that same disc by Aphrodite's Child, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Caravan, it didn't inspire me to look further into the group's music.

I'm glad that I finally listened to Tago Mago, if for no other reason than to hear "Oh Yeah" in context. The track begins with what sounds like a single thunderclap, followed by rain. But as the song follows "Mushroom" - - whose lyrics appear to refer to the atomic bombs dropped in 1945 on singer Damo Suzuki's homeland of Japan - - the rumble takes on a darker meaning. And, although they were on opposite sides of the original vinyl record, "Halleluhwah" makes perfect sense after "Oh Yeah" as a bridge between the more songlike songs on Side One and the more experimental structures of the third and fourth sides. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, "Halleluhwah" name-checks its predecessors: "she asked me Thursday for her name / so she was to go where I was singing 'Mushroom Head,' 'Oh Yeah,' 'Paperhouse" / I wonder what I should do."

Indeed, those are the most accessible songs on Tago Mago, and along with "Halleluhwah," they contain the only accessible passages on the album until the final song, "Bring Me Coffee or Tea." That's not to say Tago Mago is mainstream, though. As a pastiche of Electronic Meditation, American funk, and Stockhausen, it's not exactly radio fare. In a classic illustration of the necessity to far exceed existing norms in order to discover how much is too much, the two remaining songs, "Aumgn" and "Peking O," constitute nearly thirty minutes of avant-garde sound, most of it nonmusical.

Tago Mago is also a textbook example of the overdone double album which would've made a good single album. But it's not padded throughout la Tales from Topographic Oceans; like Ummagumma, Tago Mago has a very good first disc and a weak second one.

Any discussion of the strengths of the album, and the first disc in particular, has to include Jaki Liebezeit's drumming, which has to be some of the best drumming on any Krautrock record of the period. Suzuki's vocals deserve mention as well. Although they're not great per se, they form a great musical and rhythmic component of the music on Disc One. They're well-arranged and are treated and mixed in a way that integrates them perfectly into the overall sound. I get the sense that much of the innovative production here is the work of bassist Holger Czukay, whose tape editing transforms such songs as "Oh Yeah" from rambling rock jams into serious pieces of music.

In all, a good album; the first disc is on a par with the debuts of Tangerine Dream (Electronic Meditation, 1970) and Ash Ra Tempel (self-titled, released in 1971 after Tago Mago).

patrickq | 3/5 |

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