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Tago Mago (anniversary edition) Cay McDermott , November 23rd, 2011 10:21

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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.

I discovered Tago Mago in 2002 at a friend's house party, when I heard the strains of 'Mushroom' emanating in waves through the miasma of marijuana smoke and stale beer fumes. I was 19, just about to enter my second year of University, and had a spent a year in a tiny room in Camden wearing a duffle coat and listening to weedy, poorly-recorded C86 records on an old Dansette I'd purchased with my student loan. To say that it came as a bit of a revelation to my cloth ears would be an understatement.

There is this brilliant, creeping sense of unease that permeates 'Mushroom', from Damo Suzuki's overwraught vocals to Jaki Liebezeit's unrelenting, driving beat (a drumbeat which, over the years, I have played to many people – usually while drunk – demanding that they listen to it, just listen to it). The next day, I went into a record shop, bought the album on vinyl and played it over and over again, drinking in each of the rhythms and cursing the fact that my larger than average chest size meant that I'd never be able to become a drummer. To drum like Jaki would have meant investing in a bra that was more a minor feat of engineering that a piece of underwear.

It's not just the music that makes Tago Mago so exciting as much as who Can were when they recorded it; a bunch of experimental West German hippies who delighted in the strange. The album was recorded in Schloss Nörvenich, a castle near Cologne owned by an eccentric art collector. Can spent a year living and recording there, and would spend their days playing long, disorganised jams (more streams of musical consciousness than actual songs) that their bassist, Holger Czukay, would then splice into songs.

It's this recording process that has provided Tago Mago with its signature sound - long, uninterrupted series of rhythms, all punctuated with tape-loops, analogue synths, and primitive drum machines, providing it with an intensely stoned, woozy feel. Even the more 'difficult' tracks on Tago Mago, such as the echoed drone of 'Aumgm' (which, to modern ears, sounds like a precursor to some of the material later recorded by bands like Sunn 0))) and Boris) and the Hari Krishna-esque 'Peking O' show a band who thrilled in experimentation and playing with the limits of noise and technology.

Tago Mago shows Can at the height of their powers. Whilst their sound became more polished and poppy as they progressed through the 1970s (even earning them a minor UK chart hit with 1976's 'I Want More'), it still remains arguably their finest work. Over the years, it has become an album I've carted around with me everywhere I go – and have been forced to replace numerous times after lending it to ex-partners and leaving copies of it at house parties. I've yet to find another album that makes me wish I could turn back time and live in its world – in this case jamming with four German blokes for long days in a castle. And I've yet to find another album which contains drum patterns that make my bones shiver in delight. When it comes to Kosmische classics, this is an essential. If you don't have this in your record collection, you're doing yourself a massive disservice.

amh
Nov 23, 2011 3:40pm

Any insight on the previously unreleased live tracks (Mushroom, Spoon, and Halleluwah -- all 1972) on Disc 2 of the reissue?
Ta.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Nov 23, 2011 3:54pm

A great album but I've always preferred Future Days. But what of the live disc? What's the recording/playing like? Is it worth shelling out for another copy?

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Rich M
Nov 23, 2011 6:08pm

The second disc is pretty good, the live version of Mushroom takes the fucking awesomeness of the drums and pushes it even further out there. The half hour Spoon is quite something, too.
I haven't bothered to check whether it's stuff that's been on one of the many Can bootlegs I've got, but it's certainly better sound quality than any of them so that's good.

Looking forward to finding out what's on The Lost Tapes!

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Monty
Nov 23, 2011 7:43pm

@ amh/Stavros:

The live disc is awful; not the performances, but the sound. It's incredibly muddy and, bizarrely, is running too slow. Halleluwah inexplicably fades out at the end.

The same recording has been available for years on bootlegs at the correct speed and in much better quality. Disc 1 is the same master as the already available CD (sounds great, though).

There was no mention of how the live disc sounded in the Mojo review, either. I wonder if Mute are holding this back from promo copies- they've really undersold the band with this botch job.

Don't bother buying this reissue.

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Big Bob
Nov 23, 2011 8:31pm

Thanks Rich & Monty for your feedback on the bonus material. I'm assuming this "review" was written by somebody's girlfriend as it certainly doesn't qualify as it is...er... somewhat lacking.

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Cay McDermott
Nov 23, 2011 8:50pm

In reply to Monty:

I wasn't actually sent a promo of this, so I had to go off the copy currently residing in my record collection - hence why there's no mention of the second CD. I believe it's on Spotify now though.

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John Doran
Nov 23, 2011 10:36pm

In reply to Big Bob:

You silly little man.

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Bertie
Nov 23, 2011 11:36pm

Enjoyed reading this! Although:
"my larger than average chest size meant that I'd never be able to become a drummer"
#humblebrag

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ajs
Nov 24, 2011 2:44am

In reply to Big Bob:

way to go, douchebag.

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Rich M
Nov 24, 2011 10:57pm

In reply to Monty:

Dunno why you'd assume the bootleg version got the speed right: I'm thinking of the one that has a track that later appeared on Delay that was just sped up slightly. I heard the boot version before the official version and it was a bit odd to hear it slowed down at first. You'd have to assume that someone connected to the band listened to it and decided it was the right speed. Certainly none of the live stuff from around '72 I've heard is particularly well recorded. Hallelulwah could've been longer I'll grant you.

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Big Bob
Nov 25, 2011 2:33am

In reply to John Doran:

Don't blame me that you commissioned a personal essay on how, like, totally awesome Tago Mago is instead of an actual review old boy.

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Ryan
Nov 25, 2011 9:24am

I'm not being a dick or anything, but wouldn't it have been better to wait until a promo copy of the reissue had been received so you could've done a review of that? This was really nice and everything, but it's not really a review of the "new" album.

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Nokia NRG
Nov 25, 2011 2:45pm

In reply to Big Bob:

@Big Bob, i had exactly the same thoughts as you when reading the review. Felt like i was reading a blog post not criticism from one of the internet's finest sites.

I don't really care about your student days (unless it's pertinent and illuminating) but i do care about, for example, how the sound compares to previous remasters or what the bonus material comprises of. Not because i'm some boring train-spotter but simply because i assume that The Quietus is written by and for people who've already heard of Can.

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Nov 26, 2011 2:46am

In reply to Nokia NRG:

Ha ha The Quietus! Love you guys, but seriously, reviewing Can's TM Anniversary Edition without listening to it?? I might as well read Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc.

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Nov 26, 2011 7:18am

'wearing a duffle coat and listening to weedy, poorly-recorded C86 records on an old Dansette I'd purchased with my student loan'

Seems a very odd thing to be doing in 2002.

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John Doran
Nov 26, 2011 9:31am

In reply to :

Well, seriously, goodbye, you won't be missed. We've got a very long feature coming up with all the surviving members of Can in which we won't mention the fucking mastering because with this album it isn't an issue - I hope you find the same on P4k and Rolling Stone. Here's to the stench of Mr Logic/Comic Book Guy being reduced even further on the site.

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Labhrass
Nov 26, 2011 10:42pm

In reply to John Doran:

John, I think you are overreacting just a bit. A lot of the comments on this so-called 'review' are spot on. Tago Mago was re-released in 2004 on SACD, along with other CAN albums at that time. If there is now an anniversary reissue, then it would be interesting to find out what exactly the new reissue adds (or doesn't) to previous versions. However, it was only in the comments that the live disc is mentioned. So it is a 2-disc set ? The reviewer doesn't mention that. Another reader mentions Mute, the label. So the reissue under discussion is a Mute release ? Good to know if I want to look for it....Not mentioned either in the review. The review seems to me to be about Tago Mago, OK, but in a generic sense only, doesn't provide any particular information on this reissue. Last point : for some of us sound quality is of great importance, therefore it would be interesting to know if there is a vinyl version of this reissue ..? Again, details are missing. "...the stench of Mr Logic/Comic Book Guy being reduced even further on the site." - whatever is he on about ?

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A.A. Milne
Nov 27, 2011 4:04pm

The Horrors, mentioned within the 1st 70 words, as if they're somehow relevant. What larks.

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Anto
Nov 28, 2011 9:09pm

I once made the mistake of listening to Tago Mago (for the first time) at 3 in the morning through headphones?!?! Suffice to say I had to turn on the lights afterwards.

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Jetwelder !
Feb 28, 2012 11:51am

The first disc is the same as the 2004 remaster. The second disc features some tracks from the famous Kölner Sporthalle show in 72 (the same show featured in Peter Przygodda's film "Can Free Concert", available on the Can DVD). The sound quality is slightly better (though still a bit "bootleggy") than the many ROIOs of that show, and the long "Spoon"/"Tonight"/"Bring Me Coffee Or Tea" track is an amazing performance. The new version also comes housed in a nice envelope sleeve (featuring the UK version of the cover), which houses a nice "double digipak" mini-replica of the well-known Tago Mago sleeve. An essential purchase if you don't have the album.

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