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on 13 January 2003
This must be my sixth attempt to write a review of Tago Mago, Can's third album, which is far and away the most difficult album to write about that I have ever encountered. It's dense and confounding. It profoundly challenges the concept of music. It is the closest one can come to a sound recording of the mental processes of dementia. And it is utter, utter genius.
If Amazon would let me, I would give Tago Mago eleven stars. Never mind the fact that it's not the most accessible of Can's albums (that would be Soundtracks), or the most disciplined (see Ege Bamyasi.) I can't even say with conviction that it's their best work. But what I do know for certain is that Can's reputation for musical radicalism, avant-garde experiments, and free sound structure, is almost entirely based on Tago Mago, on which the German boys take rock music from its bases in Britain and America and launch it to Neptune.
Tago Mago is so daring, imaginative, and downright schizophrenic that it makes everything else that Can ever did seem tame and safe by comparison. It's often seen as a deliberate concept album about the path from sanity to absolute madness; I don't know how deliberate the concept was, but it certainly works. You can hear order and stability be dissected, exploded, and rebuilt completely.
The proceedings start off with "Paperhouse," a hypnotic song in a slow, bluesy groove that builds to a frenetic, almost desperate shout of sound, drums pounding with tremendous insistence, electronics offering bloopy bleeps here and there, and guitar and bass trying to maintain some sense of melody to keep the whole thing from deteriorating into mad chaos. After seven and a half minutes it dissolves into "Mushroom," a funky midtempo that is fairly consistent. It's mostly drums, with the other instruments accentuating the rhythm in patches, and Damo wailing his nonsense with what is, for him, a great deal of restraint. This is rhythmic minimalism in its most radical form, and it's counteracted by "Oh Yeah", another seven-and-a-half-minute epic that sounds this time like a 60s garage rock song gone completely haywire. The band return to the pounding drums and the insistent bass, moving at a running pace with stinging guitar riffs soloing all over the place, the keyboards moving from electronic ambience to white noise at the drop of a hat, and Damo talks without saying anything, often literally: he blabbers syllables that might be Japanese, might be made up on the spot. This is where things really start to teeter at the edge of comprehensibility.
However, the real heart of Tago Mago is in the three long songs that make up sides two, three, and most of four on the original 2-record release. Side 2 is comprised of the 18 minute, 32 second "Halleluwah," a jam that is equal parts psychedelic jam, beat poetry, funk groove, and avant-garde jazz. As always, every piece of sound works together perfectly, this time with a ranting violin floating around in the mix. Damo raves, yells, wails and sputters as usual; occasional fragments of comprehensibility rise to the surface, but the dominating lyrical idea is, and I quote, "Ha-le-le-le-le-le-le-le-le-le-le-lu-WAH! Ha-le-le-le-le-le-le-lu-WAH!"
And then there's "Aumgn." Hard to describe. Take, if you will, the most terrifying piece of music that you've ever heard. Then subtract any discernible patterns or rules. That's "Aumgn." It's silence with frequent interruption: strange atmospheric sounds, random drum licks, a creepy guitar motif, and muffled screamings while a guttural voice moans, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN." It's the hardest piece of the album to digest, and the probably the key to the whole thing: everything that came before it is Tago Mago's rising action, and "Aumgn" the sound of all preconceived notions of music exploding, is the climax.
That brings us to side 4: "Peking O" is the falling action, the moment wherein Can picks up the pieces of their dismantled music. It actually sounds as if they are sorting through aural debris, broken shards of sound and arrangements, and trying to identify and fit entirely disjointed bits of noise together. At one point Suzuki simply stops and screams a lightning-fast round of babble, which morphs into some kind of cosmic scat as the bass, drums, guitars, and weird noise start up in separate spheres and slowly coalesce back together into the rhythmic matrix that Can does so well. It's a perfect way to move to the final track, "Bring Me Coffee Or Tea," the resolution to the passage that Can (and we along with them) have taken. Back to melody, back to coherence in one of the most beautiful ballads that Can has ever done. The drums and bass pulse very gently together, with some light organ, tiny snatches of white noise, and delicate guitar layered along with it. The vocals are surprisingly mournful and expressive, and the whole package is simply gorgeous and actually approachable--by Can's standards anyway. The progression of ideas is breathtaking, and brilliant.
What I have just described is an ambitious, complex work, more so than anything else that Can ever attempted. As such it is very likely their masterpiece, but at the same time can be a very awkward place to start. If you've never listened to Can, you will either be absolutely astounded by the accomplishment of Tago Mago, or absolutely repelled by the weirdness of it. I would therefore recommend it, but with major reservations: such things take some serious getting used to. But no matter where else you go with Can, there is no question that Tago Mago is the one place that you absolutely MUST come back to.
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'Tago Mago' advanced on the climes established by 'Delay 1968','Monster Movie' & 'Soundtracks' and remains part of a trilogy of classics when Can were fronted by Damo Suzuki (the others being 'Ege Bamyasi' & 'Future Days'). It's an epic double-album that opens and closes on similar sounding tracks, between veering off into avant-garde directions which get stranger as the record progresses.
'Paperhouse' builds and builds from a funky-jazzy groove (that would become more apparent on 'Ege Bamyasi'), prior to shifting to the paranoid 'Mushroom', which would be covered by The Jesus & Mary Chain and sounds not unlike recent Primal Scream, where Damo hollers "I gotta keep my distance!" (or is it "I gotta keep my despair"? - it sounds like both...). 'Oh Yeah' builds on the strange-electronic-inflected grooves previously found on records by Can & precursors like The Beatles & The White Noise, again feeling like an odd groove with backwards-looped vocals that disorient (Can voyaging to inner space...). This peaks with the epic 'Halleluwah', which is thoroughly hypnotic, stretching a simple-groove over & over & predicting things like Happy Mondays ('Hallelujah') & The Stone Roses ('Fools Gold 9.53').
'Aumgn' is more out there, a minimal electronic based piece that some find unlistenable- it sounds somewhere between Stockhausen and Japan's 'Ghosts' and would fit on a compilation between 'The Visitations' & 'Beachy Head.' Things get odder with 'Peking-O', which starts off with sinister ambient electronics, then a vocal "driving..." that reminds me of both Ian Curtis & Jim Morrison, before shifting into loops and babble that some may find hilarious. 'Peking-O' is total avant-meltdown that sounds like chaos - so it makes sense that things calm and seem to come back to circular norm with 'Bring Me Coffee or Tea.'
'Tago Mago' remains one of those difficult albums frequently considered a classic, alongside such joys as 'Trout Mask Replica', 'Electric Ladyland', 'Rock Bottom', 'Star Sailor' & 'Hex Enduction Hour.' This album and Can would also influence (or could be argued to influence)many acts afterwards - PIL, The Fall, Stereolab, Japan, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Julian Cope, Happy Mondays, Tortoise, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, The Stone Roses, Joy Division/New Order, David Bowie, Death in Vegas, Primal Scream, (late period) Talk Talk, Spacemen 3, Suicide, Laurie Anderson etc. 'Tago Mago' is a record that rewards, and sounds better in this version than the prior Spoon-release, and one I come back to - though 'Ege Bamyasi' is probably a better introduction to the unfamiliar...
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VINE VOICEon 2 December 2004
It's so good to see Can's back catalogue getting a decent CD release at last. When they were first issued on CD back in the early 90's the transfers were poor and the CD booklets deplorable to say the least. Now they have not just been remastered for CD, but also in the new zingy SACD format for even better sonic fidelity. At the moment only their first four albums have been re-issued. The others will be available sometime during 2005 and 2006.
Can are recognised in not just being one of the best progenitors of the so-called Krautrock movement, but in being one of the most original rock bands per-se. "Tago Mago" is their third album and regarded as being their most ambitious. For me the trilogy of tracks which constituted the first side of the original double album is perfect. There is not a single note wrong or out of place. The compositions, arrangements, production could not be bettered. I would be hard pushed to think of another combination of tracks which deliver the goods in such perfection that "Paperhouse", "Mushroom" and "O Yeah" do. The opening, "Paperhouse" is a guitar fest, with Michael Karoli pulling out such scintillating guitar lines from out of nowhere. Even on this remastered version, there is still some distortion on his louder guitar parts throughout this track. But considering the primitive technology used during these recordings I suppose there is only so much that can be improved nowadays. "Mushroom" which follows is a wonderful apocalyptic tour-de force with Damo Suzuki at his best and explodes into "O Yeah" which then builds with shimmering keyboards over Jaki Liebezeits trademark cyclical drumming, Suzuki invoking something or another in a backward taped vocal. But it all works, beautifully. Next up is "Halleluwah" which lasts over 18 minutes and is the band at their best, stretching out a sumptuous funk beat, adding layers and layers of sound. There are no points of reference for this music, no obvious influences. It was totally of their own invention. Original and unique to this disparate collection of musicians.
If the album had ended with "Halleluwah" I would say without question "Tago Mago is one of the best albums ever. But extending the album to a double by including the more exploratory "Peking O" and "Aumgn" I think detracts from the power of the more structured early pieces and dilutes the overall brilliance of the album. Still, hearing any Can is better than no Can and these pieces at least show what a brilliant improvisatory outfit they were which on occasion reached telepathic proportions such was the beguiling interplay between each member. "Tago Mago" is a great double album, but it could have been one of the best single albums ever.
Considering the primitive recording conditions, the production techniques utilised are amazingly sophisticated and the remastering has released details and sounds not heard before. The clarity is a revelation and makes these releases definitive. The booklets in each release though not perfect but far, are superior to what was included before. Each have brief essays by David Stubbs and some nice archival photos. The CD is housed in the heavier grade "Super Jewel Box" which seems to becoming the more common format for packaging SACD discs.
Can were without doubt one of the most imaginative and innovative bands to emerge from the early 70's and now their back catalogue is being given a proper and deserved re-release on CD. Bring on "Future Days" and "Soon over Babaluma".
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on 21 November 2011
It pains me to give any Can release a single solitary star- especially for one of their best albums- but I'm going to have to concur with W. Thomas Phillip's review: this edition of Tago Mago is a huge let down.

I should emphasise that this is one of my all-time favourite albums. I wasn't concerned that CD1 featured the 2004 remaster- it sounds incredible, and any newer release could have run the risk of being brickwalled to death. As I suspect could be said for many long-term fans, the main draw with this reissue was the new bonus live disc.

Unfortunately, it sounds perfectly horrible- muddy, hissy, and, unbelievably, running at the incorrect speed.

To add insult to injury, this concert has been (quite literally) freely available on bootlegs for many years in much better quality. What could have been a great opportunity for Can fans old and new to experience this incredible band in all their live glory has been completely ruined by this shoddy presentation.

If you've never owned this record before, you are in for a mind-blowing experience. Please do yourself a favour however, and do not buy this edition. Aside from the nice Mini Vinyl gatefold artwork contained within the UK cover, there is no reason to own this.

Instead, any first time listeners should order the previous CD version, or the 2004 SACD hybrid. Long-term fans who already own the record would be well advised to give this a miss. Hardcore fans will likely already have the live recording in better quality. Fingers crossed that the forthcoming Lost Tapes will be a more fitting archival excursion.
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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2005
According to Julian Cope, "Every member of Can is a hero, a wizard and a truestar". According to The Rough Guide to Rock, "There is a significant lobby among fans and musicians that Can were the greatest band ever." With that sort of unrestrained praise to live up to, Can can't fail to disappoint. But for the most part, they don't, although it does take a few listens to get on their wavelength (especially Damo Suzuki's unconventional vocals).

Tago Mago - a double vinyl album in 1971 - certainly starts inauspiciously, with Suzuki intoning ponderously over the plodding, clunky couple of verses that begin 'Paperhouse'. But Karoli's delicate guitar breaks suggest something better, and when the song veers off, the band soars into a wonderful dimension of lyrical guitar and insistent jazzy rhythm.

I'll leave the hollow industrial sound of 'Mushroom', with Suzuki's wordless shouting, to the cognoscenti; it does nothing for me. But 'Oh Yeah', with its reversed rhythms and vocal, is a shimmering masterpiece. Then 'Halleluhwah' ushers in 18 minutes of groove, underpinned by the wonderfully disciplined drumming of Jaki Liebezeit - for me the hero of this album, along with guitarist Michael Karoli.

A similarly mellifluous piece closes the album, but before that come 'Aumgn' and 'Peking-O', which are strange beasts indeed - more like the 'difficult' non-music favoured by 70s prog groups. To suggest, as one reviewer has, that this was totally unique and original, is not quite true. Gong and Hawkwind, in their dishevelled hippy ways, were fumbling in the same areas, and that violin sound can be heard on Mick Farren's Carnivorous Circus, but the philosophical discipline that carries 'Aumgn' through a whole side of vinyl is hugely impressive. The theme of primal superstition is superbly rounded off by a six-minute climax of rhythmic, trance-inducing drumming.

On first listen, I felt Suzuki marred 'Halleluhwah' when, half way through the track, he comes in with a loud 'OH!', as if someone has poked him in the ribs to remind him that, as vocalist, he had better contribute soon or he won't be getting paid. He then starts to recite the track listing of side one before subsiding into silence.

Although Schmidt and Czukay are the more famous members, and Suzuki even has a Fall song named after him, in terms of pure performance it is Karoli with his delicate guitar work and Liebezeit with his sophisticated yet simple rhythms who really carry Tago Mago.

The greatest band ever? I'm still not sure, but I played this from beginning to end almost every day in the month since I bought it.
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VINE VOICEon 20 August 2010
Being a bit of a musical adventurer, I considered my discovery of Captain Beefheart as my zenith, perhaps the end of a journey into the true 'out there' artisans. However....

I had read in a number of magazines about the work of Can, a seminal band of experimentalists schooled on Stockhausen and musical extremes. It was not without little fear that I purchased this album and sat back expecting to have to survive its content...

And here comes surprise number one, it was not a case of surviving, it was a real example of how music with depth should be listened to, with close attention and repetition to get the full effect of a piece of work of this kind of gravity.

Through the first four tracks what you get is a kind of pumping back drum beat, always there, but never intrusive, giving the songs a dancey quality. Instruments and vocals are minimum over the top, but you feel you're on a journey into a wonderful and colourful world.

But this cannot prepare you for Halleluwah or Aumgm (excuse the spelling) which are two long pieces that at times drift off into a terrifying world of noise.

It's a work that has influenced the likes of PIL and a host of modern acts who simply could not exist without this band. THAT is how important this work is.

Arguably their best ever work, Tago Mago has a deserved place in history as a benchmark in music. Arguably Ege Bamyasi is the more accesible, but not necessarily better. IN fact both are incredible works.

So the question remains, why is this album not in your collection? You DO NEED IT.
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on 14 November 2011
Many Can fans (me included) regard Tago Mago - originally released on double vinyl 40 years ago today - as the group's finest achievement. I think it is among the four or five best records of all time.

This nicely-packaged 40th Anniversary edition represents perhaps the definitive version of this masterwork.

First of all the music. On Disc One we have both original vinyl LPs on one CD. This is the excellent band-supervised 2004 master, which sounds clear, powerful and dynamic. As to the music - well, for Can fans this needs no introduction. It's some of the finest music made in the 20th century. There are some interesting reviews of the music here: [...]

For the uninitiated, apart from "Aumgn" (a whirling dark maelstrom of sound that's quite scary with the lights off) and "Peking O" (insane Dada-ist cut-ups), Tago Mago is surprisingly accessible: envelope-pushing music than can be approached without fear. The 18-minute "Halleluwah" is the album's stand-out track, a monster funk groove featuring unbelievable drumming from Jaki L.

On Disc Two we have some previously-unreleased live material from 1972. Live, Can were fantastic - every song or piece was open-ended, an improvised journey. Nothing was ever played the same way twice. First off is a "Mushroom" completely different in mood, tempo, tone and just about everything else from the studio version. Next up, a superb 30-minute "Spoon" from the famous 1972 free concert, which starts of fairly conventionally and then embarks on a remarkable musical journey, all the while underpinned by Jaki Liebezeit's superb drumming. Lastly, an almost laid-back, short but super-funky "Halleluwah" (faded out unfortunately).

All three tracks are presented in decent (if not super-hi-fi) quality and easily bear repeated listening.

Finally, the packaging. You get a 16-page booklet which has a few nice pics but which is rather unilluminating. This is the only disappointing aspect of the package. There are pointless self-indulgent anecdotes from various fans: To be honest, I'm not sure anyone but a rabid Primal Scream fan is interested to know Bobby Gillespie's thoughts on TM or jamming with Jaki and Michael. I can't see anyone except Duncan Fallowell being interested in Duncan Fallowell talking about his favourite subject... Duncan Fallowell. I'd rather have heard from the band themselves, or learned something about the making of the album. It's also annoying that we don't get to learn where and when the live tracks were recorded (although I can make a decent guess by referring back to bootlegs). The two CDs are contained in a mini-LP gatefold sleeve and the whole lot is wrapped in a card box that reproduces the album's original 1972 UK LP packaging.

If you're a Can fan, I can recommend this version totally. For anyone else, especially the uninitiated, I say why not give it a go? It's not easy-listening a la Genesis, but it is some of the most daring, dynamic, astonishing music you'll ever hear.
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on 27 August 2002
Tago Mago (1970) is Can's second album proper and finds them perfecting the art of improvisation (normally a very very bad thing in rock music)coupled with precise and eminently funky musicianship. The album opens with 'Paperhouse',which shifts from a relatively gentle opening into a frenzied rhythm fest freakout: a Can speciality. The band's worst excesses were edited out by Holger Czukay, the band's erstwhile bassist, which is a good thing as it means that even though some of the songs on 'Tago' are lengthy, not a single note is wasted. The philosophy of 'less is more' is typified on the second track 'Mushroom' which is basically Damo Suzuki muttering over a drum track drenched in reverb. That is until he starts screaming and white noise erupts from both keys and guitar! Magic! The album moves on by taking a different tack; "Oh Yeah"'s incessant drumming and bassline coupled with Suzuki's backward vocals broodily rise to a false climax, or calm at the centre of the storm, before starting again (vocals right way round). Mark E. Smith of the Fall would use the same phrasing from this track on 1985's Can tribute track "I Am Damo Suzuki". "Halleluwah" follows. Words fail me. Genius. This is truly timeless music. The STone Roses and Mondays surely copied this stuff wholesale. They didn't update it or revamp it; in fact the Can originals sound fresher than anything their modern impersonators could come up with! Eighteen and a half minutes of falling in love!
Can could also be incredibly self indulgent: for evidence see "Aumgn" and "Peking O". Both are very difficult tracks; almost formless shifting in jabs and sparks towards a never-obviuos conclusion. These tracks don't appeal so much although thy are good and show the other side of Can: the wilder untamed beast that could play single tracks for upwards of 45 minutes at gigs.
There is no such thing as a perfect album, everything is flawed in some way. The reason for that is so that in six months time I can tell you that I have grown to love "Aumgn" and it's the best thing since sliced bread. And vice versa, tracks I now love will seem simplistic and overworked! And then I can love the whole thing all over again!
There is so much to love on 'Tago Mago' that it is easy to forgive the odd excess or indulgence. Listen to it and grow to love it until you see the world reflected in a new way! Reflected in a Can!
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on 22 February 2001
If I was marooned on a desert island this would be the single album I would take. As a double, it has very few tracks, but these encompass such a wide range of sounds. For example the opening 4 minutes of Augmn combines the most delicate spindly keyboard arrangement which seem to have at least 3 melodies inter-twining in the most acidic way possible, interspersed with white-noise climaxes that can shock you.
Many Can fans site this as their favourite Can album. It is demanding, totally exciting and explorative, doing underground what Sgt.pepper did overground!
One emotion-wrenching section bridges 2 tracks. The latter part of Peking-O starts off very quietly with some menacing flames and fire (reminiscent of Beatles "Revolution No.9", plus matching manic vocal, which make way for what reminds me of a Tolkein-style demonic army marching past in choas and total evil. You feel like a shocked bystander, watching this sonic assault slowly pass by you. Then the magic happens. The track fades,- as the army passes, and the balm of a really, really cool "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" as the next track, emerges to relief all round. Everything seems calmer, and you feel washed over with relaxation, after the sonic and mental stress of "Peking O". The contrast could not be starker. Damo Suzuki soothes out the lyrics exactly matching the flavour of Leibezeit's and Czukay's rythms. But as the track progresses, the tone subtley changes, the emotions graduate from calm to wild (again!). And then Can achieve what so very few artists can do, by sustaining the core of the piece and yet completely inversing the mood from calm to wild climax, with some amazing guitar and drum work from Karoli and Leibezeit. And that's how the LP ends.
I could witter on about the other tracks - they too are brilliant, but in other ways. "Hallelujah" is the one quite often sited by critics as THE ONE. But whatever your preferences, you will always remember this album.
Along with others, this for me represents the creative peak of CAN, who throughout their long career as group and soloists have made their (deutsch)mark from punk (which they invented in 1969 - hear "Father Cannot Yell" from "Monster Movie" - if you don't believe me!)) through to Schmidt's Radio-2 and Opera in the 90's. Enjoy this - and be sonically amazed!
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on 14 November 2011
Edit >>> I wrote the review below and stand by what I wrote at the time, but somebody since told me that the record mastering was done from a 48k DAT without converting to the normal CD 44.1k and that this accounts for the speed problem, but if you have the ability to fix this unforgivable mastering error, then it sounds just fine and you would have the real stereo version (as opposed to the mono version available on the web for many years.

Original comment >>> Oh what a disappointment as I was so looking forward to this!! What you get here is CD1 the same as the previous remastered version, plus the famous 1972 concert in MUCH lower sound quality than available on the web for years, which runs incredibly slow, about 5min longer or ~10% slow. A fair bit of this live material is also on the Can Box DVD in better quality.

This is just a rip-off and I cancelled my pre-order. Buy with caution only if you have none of this already.
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