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Album Review
Tago Mago - 40th Anniversary Edition

Tago Mago - 40th Anniversary Edition
by Can


Review Date
17th January 2012
Reviewed by
Nich Cunningham

Can are the prototypical Krautrock band. Of the disparate bands and artists later grouped under that moniker, such as Kraftwerk, Faust and Cluster, Can were one of the earliest practitioners and first to release an album with 1969’s Monster Movie. Their legacy extended well beyond the initial incarnation of the band: Brian Eno, PiL, Sonic Youth, Stereolab and Radiohead (amongst many others) cite Can and Tago Mago in particular as a significant influence.  For a bunch of Germans jamming in a castle, Can left an impression.

But to call Can a jam band is like calling Bob Dylan a busker. “Collective spontaneous composition” was how they liked to think of it. And when you contrast their efforts against the tedious noodlings of contemporaries such as the Grateful Dead you can see why they wanted to make that distinction. Essentially, Can would play together for hours (literally) and then bassist and bandleader Holger Czukay would take the tapes and edit it down to a more concise form. By Tago Mago, released as a double LP in 1971, Can had incorporated elements of musique concrete on top of their existing experimental basis.

An examination of method does little to describe how Can actually sound and ultimately it is this that set them apart and made them an exciting musical force. Fundamentally, the Can universe revolves around a strong pulsating rhythm section that leaves empty as much space as it occupies. One of the group’s interests was Sly Stone and this manifests in a good rhythmic feel but without turning in some kind of cheesy German funk. Over this bed, layers of guitar, vocals, keys and tape loops emerge and disappear in various forms – sometimes quite straight forward, at other times pyschadelic or esoteric in content. When listening to some of these tracks it is difficult to believe that the performance is not preconceived – there are great dynamics, coherent ideas and consistent themes. It is effortless. Not much sounds like Can that isn’t imitating Can – they were true innovators.

This version is the 40th anniversary reissue. Included are three previously unreleased 1972 live performances. Two of which are songs from the album and third is Can’s big “hit” Spoon from 1972’s Ege Bamyasi, which reached #6 in the German charts. While these inclusions are arguably a bit trainspotter-ish, they do allow the listener some insight into how the band operated. These tracks demonstrate that there is no such thing as a definitive version of a Can song. While the live versions are recognizable, they are at times startlingly different. These executions also illustrate that Can did not require editing to produce great music.

Tago Mago is a fine album by a ground-breaking band and this reissue offers worthwhile additions. The ultimate version would be on vinyl and there are plans for a vinyl box set to be released this year, but in the meantime the 40th Anniversary edition of Tago Mago is worthy of your attention. Can in general are worthy of your attention. This review can only scratch the surface of a band and a genre that has had a lasting influence so thoroughly ingrained as to be almost invisible in the modern context.



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