Release Date: Nov 15, 2011
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock
Can have long been one of those bands that are more talked about than heard. They were enormously influential on certain kinds of forward-thinking rock artists (their fingerprints are all over Radiohead and the Flaming Lips, not to mention more more recent underground acts like Woods and Implodes); their records have never been out of print for long. But they've got a big, disorderly discography, and they don't really have any signature songs (the Can tracks that pass for pop-- "Spoon", "I Want More", and not many others-- are alarmingly unlike the rest of their work).
Hey, you know what’s cool? Smoking (Drowned in Sound in no way endorses the view that smoking is cool). Think back through the history of pop culture going right back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, or even the era of great European cinema before that; the smell of cigarette smoke pervades both its great characters and its screen idols: James Dean, Richard Burton, Fellini, Fassbinder, Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson. The same can be said of the great pop music icons; smoking is the Sixties counter culture movement, smoking is Dylan, Tom Waits and Hendrix, smoking is Keith Richards.
With the band in full artistic flower and Damo Suzuki's sometimes moody, sometimes frenetic speak/sing/shrieking in full effect, Can released not merely one of the best Krautrock albums of all time, but one of the best albums ever, period. Tago Mago is that rarity of the early '70s, a double album without a wasted note, ranging from sweetly gentle float to full-on monster grooves. "Paperhouse" starts things brilliantly, beginning with a low-key chime and beat, before amping up into a rumbling roll in the midsection, then calming down again before one last blast.
First, a little perspective: Tago Mago came out in 1971, the same year as Sticky Fingers, Maggot Brain, Hunky Dory, Master of Reality, There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Electric Warrior. Even with that kind of rarefied company, this album still seems sui generis. Sure, Can had recorded before and the results were as beguiling as brilliant, but Tago Mago was (and is) a double-length album like no other.
I'm sure there is an album like Tago Mago lying around somewhere right now. An album that has gone completely unnoticed except by a hip few. An album that is of an entirely new and unique sound in the current age of clicheness. An album which is simplistic in its execution, but virtuoso in its ideas.
The blueprint for much of the leftfield music of the past 40 years. Luke Turner 2011 Former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki is still a regular face in the gig venues of the world. His modus-operandi is to turn up in any given city and recruit a band of local musicians to provide the improvised backing to his shamanic, often-indecipherable exhortations. He’s therefore not changed much in the years since Can bassist Holgar Czukay discovered him busking outside a Munich cafe and asked him to join the group.
In his seminal work on Kosmische, Krautrocksampler, Julian Cope writes that Can's Tago Mago "sounds only like itself, like no-one before or after". 40 years on from the album's initial release, it's an observation that still holds true. There have been many bands who have attempted to recreate the heady, woozy, dark whirl of rhythms invoked on Tago Mago – from Public Image Limited to The Horrors – yet none of them have ever managed to truly capture the combination of the sinister and the sublime that have made it such a modern classic.
Having been on a shamefully belated personal Can back catalogue trawl over the last year, it’s clearly apparent that not one album can truly represent and illustrate what made the band so special and so important. Even the over-polished and disjointed albums from the band’s twilight years are at least, in parts, crucial in explaining their meteoric and innovative sonic journey. That said; if you were only to acquire four Can albums then 1971’s Tago Mago would certainly have to be one of them, which in part justifies this 40th Anniversary deluxe reissue (bolstered by a disc of contemporary live material) being used as a trailer for next year’s promised collection of outtakes/live material and a gargantuan oil reserves-draining vinyl reissue boxset.