Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Penguin Cafe Orchestra: The Penguin Cafe Orchestra Mini Album [Editions EG EP, 1983]
Simon Jeffes outlines a music from everywhere that could easily turn into a music for nowhere: "music which is influenced by the above [classical, rock, jazz, folk] but also by African, Japanese, Venezuelan, Celtic (Scottish and Irish), Cajun, Reggae, and other sources." But where Paul Winter, whose program isn't all that dissimilar, is half pundit and half mooncalf, Jeffes's gentle wit, unmystical posture, and fondness for urban life combat vague-out. Whether he also reaches the "heart of our own time and culture," however, is another matter. His eccentric post-folk orchestrations seem more like escapes to me--into fantasy, into a future with reassuring connections to the past. Which makes this an odd piece of product. "The Penguin Cafe Single" is more useful here than the premature Music From the Penguin Cafe. The two new pieces are simple, charming, and very slight. And the three finest tunes, two in new but hardly definitive live versions, are also available on the nonmini album they put out in 1981, the length of which better suits the leisurely pace of Jeffes's panpop impressionism. B