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The Penguin Cafe Orchestra - When In Rome CD (album) cover


The Penguin Cafe Orchestra


Eclectic Prog

3.19 | 8 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars In principle I think that it'd be good to rate every album against what it tries to achieve (plus probably some reflection on whether this is a worthwhile aim), and to try hard to appreciate its merits and what it is about, rather than just giving marks according to personal taste. But even if I guess what the album tries to achieve and to whom this could appeal, my personal point of view gets in the way. We can never be objective, can we?

I'm pretty sure that "When in Rome" is a very good album. It presents live recordings of a nice collection of the PCO's songs from a certain period of the band. Live albums apparently have something of a bad reputation on this site, but the sound of this one is wonderful, almost of studio quality, even somewhat more dynamic, as is typical for good live albums, although this one is rather close to the studio sound of the band - and the audience helps by being very civilised. It is also very well played. For those who don't know, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra plays friendly instrumental "miniatures" between minimal music, chamber classic and folk with clever arrangements featuring lots of instruments, with some conventional piano, acoustic guitar and occasional calm drums, bringing in more classical instruments such as violins or mandolin. Rhythm is important, it is always present, played mostly lightly as a feather, carried by guitar or other melodic instruments, but still the backbone of the sound (this is not an album for fans of a mighty drum and bass section, though).

The PCO occupies a quite unique and original niche. I know one other album of the band and a few further songs, so that I can't really comment on where "When in Rome" stands in their catalog, but my impression is that it represents the PCO sound quite typically, which has probably not changed so much over their career. They found their concept early on and stuck to it, by and large. So far, therefore, my conclusion is that it can only be a good thing to have a PCO album in your collection, and it may well be this one.

Now the thing is that somehow the music of the PCO is not really my cup of tea. The reason is probably that it's all a bit too easy going, too nice and too pleasant. The melodic material is quite simple, sometimes reminding of children's songs or country and western. The musicians obviously have fun playing this and the arrangements can't be faulted, but still, I don't get much emotional depth from this. I somehow get the feeling that this is music either for people who don't have an all too emotionally moving life and listen to music as a nice distraction, or on the other hand people who want to forget about how hard life is. This kind of music feels like a distraction from life to me, whereas the music about which I am more passionate carries the depth of life with it.

As far as I know the PCO, there is nothing wrong in particular with this album; what I just wrote holds, in my intuition, for all their music as far as I know it, and this means that it's probably a personal thing that I just can't really connect to it emotionally. In this sense, it's something of an unfair review. I'm sure that this is very good music according to their own standards that are absolutely legitimate but are not mine, so don't let me stop you buying this. I am even fine with having this one album of theirs in my collection. So I could rate this as 4 stars because I believe it's good enough for this in some idealised "objective" sense - except that I play this less often and actually like it less than a couple of others I rated 3 stars, so I'm not going to give this one more, no I won't! (And who am I to tell what's "objective"?)

Lewian | 3/5 |


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