I'd lay my critical life on the line and say that nothing catches rock and roll's soul in all its Gnostic guises more completely over a whole LP than Tarot. Simply put, it's got bloody everything.
Walter Wegmuller – Tarot
I feel as if I am never going to do this album justice by simply reviewing it.
Really there's only one thing to do. Someone needs to put this on the PA before a Robbie Williams concert, just to show people that in this life you can settle for safety and smug, inwards-looking complacency, or you can create something worthy in the name of homo sapiens sapiens. For this LP is all about real, creative, artistic human achievement; and playing it is a reminder of how low we sometimes allow our creative standards to slip. It's as simple as that. No matter what I write isn't going to come close to capturing and explaining the strange genius of Tarot for you. You just have to get it. And it's for sure that the first two listens will give you the mother and father of all headaches. It is all too much, but then, so is trying to get your head round the genius of Michelangelo is a couple of hours.
A bit of history is worth repeating here. Recorded in a seedy Berne basement in 1973, the band was made up of Krautrock supergroup Ash Ra Tempel various musicians from Witthusser and Westrupp, Wallenstein and the celebrated gipsy mystic and Tarot card diviner Walter Wegmuller. As was the wont with any recording from the Cosmic Couriers set up, a lot of hallucinogens were consumed, and long, epic free-form jams were played in an attempt to locate the soul of the album. Wegmuller got so into the whole thing that he designed a complete new set of Tarot cards for the LP (which can be seen in the lavish CD reissue booklet). However, don't be fooled into thinking that this is one big self indulgent hippy trip. This is no way a hippy record, despite being swathed in hippy-ish idealism, there is no safety net, no passport home, not politics of the comfortable (to mis-quote VS Naipaul).
Despite being recorded way back in 1973, I'd lay my critical life on the line and say that nothing catches rock and roll's soul in all its slippery and Gnostic guises more completely over a whole LP than Tarot. Simply put, it's got bloody everything. From the opening cod-music hall boogie-woogie of Der Narr, complete with the funny references to "Ze Chermann Nile Yung" you realise you are on for a big one. The thing with Tarot is, that even in it's more relaxed moments (such as Der Narr) it is all-consuming in its intensity and desire. There is never a moment when the focus is softened or the foot taken off the gas.
Der Magier is a crazy torch-lit march through the woods, whereas Die Herrscherrin is a vaporous synth-swaddled meditation piece carried on just too long to be called indulgent. Der Herrscherr is rock and roll like the Velvets could have written if they'd had the guts too go straight and keep Cale in the band. Hohepriester is a beautiful piano cascade that allows the creation of a soft Mittel-Europa folk track to develop over its gently undulating rhythms. No-one could get away with anything so mawkish if there was any indication of a half-arsed attitude from the musicians. As it is, it's incredibly moving. Die Entschiedung continues in similar vein at first with a floating piano part, but soon develops into the full scale Kraut assault that is the pulsating Der Wagen. Suddenly, as if borne in on glacial synths, Die Gerechtigkeit presents a terrifying conclusion to the last 8 minutes of trippy rock. I think this is one of the most spine tingling moments of the LP. A sudden edit brings everything up short, momentarily confusing you, as a beautiful soft piano lullaby introduces Klaus Schultze telling the story of Der Weise. Das Glucksrad leaves the confines of the Earth with the aid of some incredibly trippy synth and very scary string-scraping noises. And Wegmuller's voice is at all times hypnotic and terrifying. Last up on record one, Die Kraft returns to the guitars of Der Narr, with a hypnotic tom-tom swirl that snarls and growls, its Detroit teeth barred in defiance to being called hippy.
Lie down time...
Okay, onto record number two. This is by far the most challenging spin, and frankly makes the first record sound like a Hollies LP. Die Prufung sounds as if ME Smith's vocal duties in the Fall have been taken over by Andy Warhol's ghost. It's that bonkers. Luckily Wegmuller comes in to tell us not to worry as it's nearly spring time so don't freak about the incredibly dissonant guitar and Yvonne Paulette style synths. Der Tod begins as a long wail before starting the Clinton/Hazel style noodlings of Die Massigkeit. We are getting into Maggot Brain territory here without a doubt. Except of course, Maggot Brain doesn't have a focused, incredibly serious Tarot Card diviner preaching his message. Der Teufel comes as a welcome break from all the madness, Bernard Witthuser taking the vocal lead over a soft acoustic strum.
Following that ode to the diabolic, the beauty of Die Zerstorung is a very uplifting experience. Once again we are treated to beautiful piano runs and incredibly rich, sonorous synth accompaniments. This track is possibly one of the most beautiful on the LP. You have to say it, the second record mixes up sounds and plays with your feelings with true abandon. After the beauty of Die Zerstorung comes Die Sterne, a huge zeppelin floating over the Swiss valleys for what seems like an eternity. Der Mond carries on the tripped-out feel; we are well above the Earth's atmosphere now. It's so calming in its minimalist, clear-cut beauty and in complete contrast in its mood to Die Sonne, which suddenly picks up in volume, like some huge generator sparking into life.
Das Gerricht is a beautiful interlude before the introduction of possibly the greatest, most menacing slab of white funk of all time. Frankly Die Welt is possibly one of the greatest tracks of all time, as it seemingly swallows up everything in its path; Detroit, funk, ambient, you name it. In some ways it is closer to PiL in spirit. The music is relentless in its march, instruments carefully placed to add just that little bit more, just when you feel like settling down into the underlying stoner groove. The bit when Wegmuller reads his final pronouncement is shattering. Truly, you are drained emotionally just listening to this track alone.
Tarot; what can you say, apart from "genius"? Get it.