40 years ago, putting on Can’s Tago Mago back in 1971, was almost a very dangerous decision that you had to make to go on this ride that you will never forget. With its loud and shrieking guitar sounds from the late Michael Karoli, rambling voices sung into the insane asylum done by Damo Suzuki, and the disturbing front cover that looks like the nuclear bomb had just exploded, could be the album that put the kings of the Krautrock scene, making one of the most influential albums to give birth of Post-Punk, Experimental music, and Alternative Rock from the realms of; Public Image Ltd, Magazine, The Fall, Flaming Lips, and Radiohead.
After Malcolm Mooney left after Soundtracks and Damo Suzuki joined in 1970, the band went from the sound of the Stooges into the realms of Terry Riley and early Mothers of Invention combined into a massive freakout like no other. The music was very avant-garde, chamber music going into a massive haywire altitude of 150, and the grooves became very dark, evil, and sinister and that was how Can was going to take Tago Mago like the soundtrack of a utopian world going into a world of hell after religion, art, and politics go into a battlefield with massive violence.
Each of the members had to improvise and decide how their next album was going to sound like. Karoli’s guitar playing became very eerie, Irmin Schmidt’s keyboard playing add an annihilation background, drummer Jaki Liezeit would do some jazz fusion like sound on the drums while bassist Holger Czukay would bring the sound fusion and funk into a world musical structure on the bass that would have made Shuggie Otis smile and have his feet tickled.
While they came from a musical background, Holger Czukay mentioned in the November issue of Classic Rock Presents Prog talking about the making of Tago Mago to Rob Hughes, “It was Chamber Music, but loud.” “I personally was always thinking in terms of chamber symphonies. A little bit loud and noisy mayber, but the same thing. And not bound only to words. It’s a very original piece of work. You cannot repeat something like Tago Mago, it’s impossible.”
And Czukay was right one the money, there’s no way you couldn’t make an album like Tago Mago. I mean you want to try it? Go right ahead and do it, but let’s cut the crap and get straight to the music. From the mellowing introduction of Paperhouse with its calmed down guitar lines and cool vocal lines of flying through the dreamland clouds told through Suzuki, is very laid back while Mushroom is a dooming view of nuclear war featuring both instruments going into a sneering tone as Damo sings dangerously about the mushroom cloud hovering into the sky as Jaki’s drum beats would later become very much pre hip-hop sampler to influence breakdancing.
It goes into a hypnotic boom after the explosion as it goes into Oh Yeah with the tape going backwards of Damo’s voice and Jaki and the band go into a fast mode into the world of hell as the 18-minute avant-funk rock of Halleluwah becomes a jam session. With Czukay’s punk-funk bass line from D, F, G that comes with Karoli’s homage to Hendrix, and Schmidt’s keyboard playing takes the listener into an insane mode like no other and going fucking batshit nuts!
Then everything becomes nightmarish as Aumgn starts off where it becomes a sequel to Paperhouse with Schmidt’s atmospheric new age touch of the keyboards with some space rock structures and then it goes into an avant-garde haywire effect of tape loops, fiddle screeches, Suzuki vocalization’s spreading through the album as if he’s going through a trance meditation as Schmidt and his keyboard follows his voice so high, that you almost think he’s going to make it to the top as Jaki pays tribute to the Floyd’s Ummagumma-era as if he’s writing The Grand Vizer’s party as he takes a dramatic turn to punch it up to level 200! Peking O, on the other hand, is more strange and weird than Aumgn as if they are paying tribute to the Doors Celebration of the Lizard.
Avant-Garde music over the top as Damo takes it to a meditation level up a notch with the keyboards and going through speeches as if he’s singing this in the asylum with the band talking and screaming to an organ and a drum machine as it goes through a church like choir into a bossa nova dance beat gone wrong to an African tribe music tape going into a full speed mode. Bring Me Coffee or Tea is the closer, which is the calm after the storm of Halleluwah, Aumgn, and Peking O.
It has a mellowing Indian tribe musical effect with a jazzy upbeat, and the melodic structures that is completely out of this world. Also included are three live tracks that they did in 1972 featuring a haunting and dazzling version of Mushroom, the 29-minute shrieking turned Zappa like effect of Spoon which at the time they were promoting Ege Bamyasi, and Halleluwah in a B-grade quality shows them grooving out and having a good time.
Tago Mago is not an easy album to listen to, and yet 40 years later on, it still influences to this very day that goes into heaven and into the post-apocalyptic structures of hell as if they recorded the soundtrack for 28 Days Later. Now if you want proof of insane music and shrieking time signatures, just ask The Mars Volta and they can tell you how much they have a love of CAN.