I’ve written many words about my fondness for the original Penguin Café Orchestra and its proprietor, Simon Jeffes, and you might have already read my review of the recent concert by the revived, rebooted, Penguin Café helmed by son-of-Jeffes, Arthur. Well now there’s an album of new material written by Arthur Jeffes featuring this new configuration of musicians.
It’s a hard job to fill anyone’s footsteps, probably even harder to fill your father’s footsteps but “A Matter of Life..” is brave attempt at resurrecting his musical heritage. Before you even listen to the CD you have to commend his strength of character for even attempting such a feat. I mean, what if the record is a stinker? What if it is just a piss-poor shadow of the original Penguin Café music?
Thankfully, the answer to those questions is a resounding “No!”. There are some classic moments on the record where you forget that this is Jeffes Jr work and you kid yourself that the PCO are back in town, the opening track “That, Not That” and “Landau” are examples of the music just spiriting you away to the good old days and a are worth the price of admission alone.
And while it is a brave record, you can sense that there is a lot of nostalgia here, the tunes are looking back and not looking forward. A lot of the musical cues and ticks and styles are borrowed wholesale from Jeffes Snr (the “Fox and the Leopard”, for example). Is this a bad thing? Yes, if you are looking for a work of startling genius. No, if you accept the record and the project for what it is: remembering and reviving.
I must admit I’ve never experienced music or a record like this before. It feels right as a continuation, but the snickering cynic at the back of my mind asks: “Is this music genuine – does it come from a genuine place?” I don’t want to even try and answer that because I have already accepted the record and I can’t imagine my own children being remotely interested in the music I make, let alone setting out on a path to recreate it.
The bottom line is that if you are a Penguin Café Orchestra fan and you want the closest thing to bringing the band back from the dead and experiencing a new PCO album, then this is it. My only criticism is some of the later tracks feel a little underdeveloped and meandering, but the original band were guilty of this trait sometimes too.
It truly is a remarkable piece of work and my admiration for Arthur Jeffes continues. I look forward to seeing the band again in May.