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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


Itís hard to think of whatís 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 Karoliís guitar and Irmin Schmidtís 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 itís the groove thatís missing from so many bands these days. Somewhere along the line, "groove" got a bad rap, became uncool, when instead itís where the central nervous system lies: Just six seconds into "Halleluwah," youíre already hooked, and itís the crazy locked-in drum and bass that does it. Most assuredly, Karoliís guitar scrape and Suzukiís drawled vocals are sweet, not to mention the UFO drive-by from Schmidtís 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. Itís a bit odd that the bulk of the live disc is a half-hour-long version of "Spoon" from a different Can album, but itís great anyway.

So, we have a groundbreaking album re-released, with some strong live material. Whatís not to like? Really, itís just that thereís 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 donít really add anything of importance. Itís 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 canít 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 donít already own the album, what the hellís wrong with you? Go buy it.

By Mason Jones

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