(All Album Reviews by Chuck AzEee!)
Oh how different the world of popular music would be without the group called Can. Originally a quartet from Germany, augmented by the loony bird, American-born Malcolm Mooney (until his erratic behavior earned him the boot after the band's first album.) The band's fortunes would change when the band added Japanese vocalist, Damo Suzuki to the mix, and where all of the bands most important material was to be recorded.
Cited by many outside of the prog world to have been a seminal influence, bands like Public Image Limited, Roxy Music, The Fall, Joy Divison, Siuoxsie and The Banshees, The Cure to name a few were taken aback by a band that really had no contemporaries, the closest bands in resemblance was Frank Zappa's Mother's Of Invention (circa Uncle Meat) or Velvet Underground and even these guys were a bit different from Can.
From the Fripp-like guitar licks of Michael Karoli, to the creepy, ambient washes of Irmin Schmidt's synthesizers, the bouncy repetitiveness of Holger Czukay's fuzz bass, and the polyrhythmic drumming of Jaki Liebiezeit, Can funked up shit like no other of the time. With a band of such pedigree, Can chose to take the dissonance of Pink Floyd's early experimentation period, and add a "soulful" quality to it. All came to fruition on the band's third album, Tago Mago.
Originally a double album (one CD), the band's experimentation mixed with the band's druggy funk beats, laid a new foundation to people whom otherwise thought of the band's two primary influences (Zappa and Velvet Underground) to be too overbearing to be taken serious. The opener is trip happy "Paperhouse", followed by "Mushroom" which therin segues into one of the band's opuses, "Oh Yeah" (It's one of the few things that the producers of The Supernatural Fairy Tales box set got right, when they included this song).
The fourth track, not wanting to call it a song is the drug induced psychedelia, "Aumgn", which is basically the band, making noodling noises underneath Damo's chanting, very creepy and it builds up to some great percussive work by Jaki. Powerful stuff for the faint of heart. The last two songs, "Peking O" and "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" continue with the band's exterminations, but the damage is done.
Some might have legitimate gripes about Faust, Neu!, Amon DŁŁl 2, but Can was still a few league ahead of their peers and this album define the whole genre of Kraut-rock. Light years ahead of everyone in music at the time, Can were the forebearers to the post punk movement.
For a good length of time, my review of Tago Mago was the longest on Prog Archives at over 7000 words. After reading many comments that it was too long and most unreadable, I have decided to shelve my masculinity and hand back the title to Dream Theater fan who expended nearly 5000 words on Octavarium. Or, at least, I will try. I am completely rewriting this review, preserving only the best ideas from the old review. And with that, I now enter the magical, mind-melting world of Can, and I hope that you will join me as I explore the fantastic landscape of Tago Mago.
While Can were around and in their prime (their prime began with their unreleased debut, now called Delay 1968 and ended with Future Days, a span of six studio albums), they were one of the all too rare bands that hasnít been equaled since (count Magma and a few select others among those who make this short list). Can were so unique, so inimitable, to try and recreate their glory would only serve to show just how elite they were, how much they dominated at the time, even if the world was not ready for them. I know that at least one post-rock band has tried to recreate Can, and, while I have not heard the album, I have read that it is a mere shadow of what Can once were. This comes as no surprise to me, and, once youíve heard Tago Mago, it should be no surprise to you.
Tago Mago truly epitomizes the notion of one-of-a-kind, even within Canís own discography. The two (three, if you count Delay 1968) albums before Tago Mago were vastly different in sound. Delay 1968 and Monster Movie, with African American vocalist Malcolm Mooney, were harsh affairs perfectly suited to Malcolm Mooneyís harsh and grating (in a good way) voice. With Soundtracks, which mostly featured new vocalist Damo Suzuki (from Japan), was much softer and more refined, as befits his gossamer voice. And then, after the landmark Tago Mago, an effort that is not only their best, but, as I see it, musicís best, they again changed course. 1972 saw the follow-up Ege Bamyasi, an album that featured a slight leaning towards avant-garde pop, though which still lived up to Canís experimental nature. In 1973, their most drastic change yet, they released Future Days, one of the most symphonic Krautrock albums (along with Amon Duul IIís Wolf City). Future Days is nearly as good Tago Mago, in part because it is a brilliant album and in part because it shows that Can were not, like so many bands, accomplished in only one domain.
Tago Mago served as my introduction to Krautrock, currently my favorite genre of music, but Tago Mago did more than just introduce me to great music; it completely changed my perspective of what music can be. I was a symph-head when I bought Tago Mago, and my mind was very nearly closed. I bought Tago Mago only so I could say that I had tried ever genre on the site, but that was about as open-minded as I got. I had done the same for avant-garde (I hated it) and Zeuhl (eh), but it was not until Tago Mago came my way that I learned just what all three of those genres had to offer me. And now, I can claim I like at least one album from every genre listed on the site, but it is the avant-garde trio of Krautrock, RIO/avant, and Zeuhl that are closest to my heart. Even more than that, I am now able to go into any album without preconceptions governing my enjoyment of it, having seen firsthand how rapidly tastes can change.
Perhaps the greatest reason that Tago Mago changed my relationship with music is because it serves two purposes. It is an album you can listen to for enjoyment, obviously, and I do that all the time. However, it is also an album you can (and should) listen to in order to reevaluate your views of what music is. Whether Can intended that to be the case when they released this album is unknown, but that is how it turned out, so we must take it as it is. While you listen, place yourself in the context of 1971 and you will see just how ground(and rule)breaking this album was and still is.
Tago Mago is, in the purest sense of the word, a revolution. It rebelled against every standard in rock music at the time. It changed the nature and purpose of a rhythm section, defied all notions of accessibility at times (while being downright catchy at others), and refused to fall into any sort of mold. In short, it lived up to the bandís name, C(ommunism)A(narchy)N(ihilism). I donít want to scare you off by suggesting that this album is completely inaccessible (that would be Faustís self-titled debut), I merely want you to see how different this album was (and, once again, still is). On Tago Mago, the rhythm section is not treated as a second class citizen, rather, each instrument is given its fair share of time in the spotlight. The rhythm section is not just the backbone of this album, it is also face of it, in many ways, with Schmidtís keys providing the atmosphere (skin color, if you will) and Karoliís guitar doing everything else. On top of all this is the delicate and yet powerful voice of Damo Suzuki, acting as the glue that brings everything together. Michael Karoli once said that Suzuki could ďcapture the sound spectrum of Can in a single wordĒ (Ege Bamyasi liner notes), and I doubt if truer words have ever been spoken. Combined thusly, Can was a musical force of nature yet to be rivaled. As you will see if you read Neu!mannís Can reviews, each musician in Can was highly accomplished, even if they prefer to express it as a single unit rather than as a group of five musicians each determined to outshine the others. Perhaps the greatest aspect, however, is the production. Holger Czukay was able to turn improvisations into the studio compositions you see and hear in the finished product, and he is the only producer I can honestly say I revere simply as a producer.
The overall result of this enmeshing of five unique musicians is Tago Mago. The mixture of avant-classical and atmospheric keyboards, rhythms whose grooves will reach your bones, noodling (but still excellent, for no one could noodle like Karoli) guitar, delectable bass, and vocal experimentations keeps you on your toes for seventy-three minutes. What this does for the album is essential. It prevents you from ever getting bored because, despite the tremendous amount of repetition (and I mean tremendous Ė Can were one of the most hypnotically repetitive bands to ever walk this earth making music), you can never guess what comes next. The only other band to mirror this effect with so much repetition is Magma. Second, and this is the big point, the unique sounds Can make keep the album fresh. No matter how recently youíve listened to it, you can still listen again and find something new (as I have done many times).
Given all that Iíve said so far, you can probably guess what comes next. Please excuse my predictability, however, because what Iím about to say is true and deserves saying. Tago Mago is, if nothing else, ahead of its time. In fact, itís more than that because, while it was ahead of its time in 1971, it would still be ahead of its time if released now, or even fifty years from now. Can are still waiting for the world to catch up to this album. In fact, after Future Days, Can started slowing down to the rest of the worldís pace, still releasing good music (Soon Over Babaluma, Landed, and Saw Delight are all great albums), but no longer redefining rock music.
Despite all the praise Iíve heaped on Tago Mago, I must still admit that it is an album that it is easy to dislike; even I disliked it the first few listens. In the forefront of the reasons why some may not like this album is (and I quote f