Can – Tago Mago (Spoon/Mute)
By Scott Creney
This isn’t an album; it is a universe. It’s a sacred text obsessed with space, with silence and sound, with magic and power. It is music as a lifeforce — one as equally capable of destruction as it is of creation.
More practically, it is a double album that came out in 1971, consisting of seven songs, two of which take up an entire side. Tago Mago is the album where Can, the German rock group (oh, but they were so much more than that — it’s like calling James Joyce a man of letters) left their early influences — Pink Floyd, Stockhausen, Hendrix, et al —in the fucking dust and went charging ahead into a style of music that has echoed endlessly through pretty much every style to come along since then — dub, post-punk, hip-hop, acid house, trip-hop, techno, ambient, dubstep, etc — but has yet to be duplicated. It features avant-garde tape manipulations, hooks galore, keyboard drones and stabbing guitars (along with guitar drones and stabbing keyboards) cool-ass poetry from a singer who was almost as original as Yoko Ono, and probably the greatest rhythm section in the history of recorded music.
The music ebbs and flows like nature, as a wave, as the cycle of the moon, as the female orgasm, as radiation, as a psychedelic trip. And it is every bit as cleansing and dangerous, as open and unself-conscious, as shifting and transcendent. As apparent and indescribable. And, for now, Tago Mago is also legal, and easily accessible.
Like every great album these days, it is celebrating an anniversary — in this case its 40th — by being reissued in a deluxe edition with a bonus disc that contains never-before-released live recordings taken from the following year. The live disc features three songs and lasts for nearly an hour. The performances are more physical, more breathless, than the ones on the album. The version of ‘Mushroom’ is a complete reimagining of the song from the bottom up. It, along with the others — one of which is a 30-minute version of ‘Spoon’ off the following year’s Ege Bamyasi — is absolutely essential listening.
Tago Mago communicates in backwards vocals and flickering rain. It is the sound of being sucked down the drain of your shower and turned back into a child. It is a whisper in your ear that you cannot understand, that you are pretty sure you do not want to understand. Not yet, not fully. When listening to this album, try not to imagine that a spider, let alone armies of spiders, are crawling toward you, burrowing up from beneath your feet. You will shriek loud enough to wake the neighbors, if not the spiders, if not the babies hatching out of their eggs, crawling all over your spine.