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Can - Tago Mago - 40th Anniversary Edition

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Artist: Can

Album: Tago Mago - 40th Anniversary Edition

Label: Mute

Review date: Jan. 9, 2012

It’s hard to think of what’s left to say about Can, particularly Tago Mago, their first with singer Damo Suzuki after former vocalist Malcolm Mooney suffered a nervous breakdown. Songs like "Mushroom," "Oh Yeah" and most especially "Halleluwah" have served as templates for countless bands since 1971. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holger Czukay lay down some of the most inspirational beats of any rock band, while Michael Karoli’s guitar and Irmin Schmidt’s keyboards have been emulated by most post-something bands: post-punk, post-rock, and more.

Listening to Tago Mago now, in this 40th-anniversary incarnation, makes me realize that it’s the groove that’s missing from so many bands these days. Somewhere along the line, "groove" got a bad rap, became uncool, when instead it’s where the central nervous system lies: Just six seconds into "Halleluwah," you’re already hooked, and it’s the crazy locked-in drum and bass that does it. Most assuredly, Karoli’s guitar scrape and Suzuki’s drawled vocals are sweet, not to mention the UFO drive-by from Schmidt’s synths. But you almost get the feeling that with a rhythm this unstoppable, the other guys get off easy. No matter what they did, the song would still kick ass.

The second half (sides C & D when originally released as a double LP) is a somewhat different story. "Aumgn" is 18 minutes of free-form freakout that, while undeniably "deep" only truly comes alive when Liebezeit takes the reins and throws down with some tribal drumming. "Peking O" moves through several progressively-weirder passages, but by the end settles into another killer groove splashed with colorful distortion, static and vocal wailing. These two songs, from 40 years ago, render much of the last 10 years of free-form "psych rock" redundant.

This anniversary edition comes in a nice fold-out sleeve with a second disc of live material from 1972, a great reminder that these songs possessed feverish energy in performance, and found new form -- "Mushroom" and "Halleluwah" in their live forms demonstrate the flexibility the band possessed. It’s a bit odd that the bulk of the live disc is a half-hour-long version of "Spoon" from a different Can album, but it’s great anyway.

So, we have a groundbreaking album re-released, with some strong live material. What’s not to like? Really, it’s just that there’s not much of a reason for fans to buy this. The music is the same re-mastering that Mute released in 2004, and the booklet is more or less the same as well, with a couple more pieces that don’t really add anything of importance. It’s not as though it would be hard to get someone to write something substantial about this album; instead, we get the same short, shallow essays. It can’t help but feel like Spoon/Mute hoping people will buy the album yet again just to get the 40th anniversary edition and some live material. Tago Mago deserves more.

That said, though, if you don’t already own the album, what the hell’s wrong with you? Go buy it.

By Mason Jones

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