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.