Perhaps I should start by stating the obvious: “Tago Mago” is a very weird record.
The first few times I played it, I had a hard time sitting through it. Its approach is just so strange, especially in terms of how it utilizes vocals, that it can be disarming and off-putting. Ultimately, I chose to dismiss it, but something kept dragging me back.
Near universal critical claim is certainly responsible for most of my patience, but that isn’t enough to explain how this impossibly peculiar double album started to grow on me. Yes, it’s inexplicable, dense and (at times) maddeningly baffling, but it can also be incredibly musical and rhythmic, even if I can’t understand a word of the lyrics. The song titles pretty much convey the lyrical content. Any attempt to pronounce “Aumgn” sounds like most of what I hear and “Oh Yeah” seems to convey the level of poetry contained therein.
On “Tago Mago”, human voice is not used in any conventional manner, but rather as one color on a multi-hued palette. The strong drumming of Jaki Liebezeit ropes mein, but without a doubt, it’s the sound collage production of Holger Czukay that makes this album so remarkable. In his use of the studio itself as an instrument, he ties together the bizarre rants of ‘vocalist’ Damo Suzuki by editing them, manipulating their placement, looping them backwards (at least I think it’s backward at times. Who knows?) and setting them over a musical bed from edited bits of avant-garde noise, atmospheric drones and powerful rhythms. At times, it’s undeniably awesome. At others, it’s undeniably annoying.
To genuinely appreciate “Tago Mago”, you need to be openminded and you also need to have a healthy sense of humor. Bassist/producer Czukay sounds like he is genuinely having fun, allowing his distinctly dry sense of German humor to inform his editing and sound construction. The second half of “Tago Mago” will make fans of conventional pop music run screaming for the eject button, and I completely understand the instinct to make this record stop! Please! But I’ve also learned to be patient and give it time to sink on. For decades, I avoided “Tago Mago.” Half a century after its release, I can still say that I will probably never understand it fully, but I can also state that regardless of the challenge it presents, I haven’t heard anything else even remotely like it, and it makes me smile, even as it grows irksome.
February 1971 – Billboard Did Not Chart
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