Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Signs of Life

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AllMusic Review by

The PCO's last proper studio album of all new tunes also wound up being their last for EG Records, but the group shows no sign of slowing down or of boredom (the album title is certainly not ironic). In fact, the jokiness of some of the earlier albums (particularly in song titles) is totally absent here as well, suggesting Jeffes and company worked at considerable length to make this a mature effort. It is. Works like "Southern Jukebox Music" and "Swing the Cat" are an Englishman's imagined version of Appalachia, or Michael Nyman trapped in a bluegrass band. The centerpiece of the album is the brilliant "Perpetuum Mobile" -- which unfortunately went on to be used in several television ads for telecommunication companies, brokerage houses, and other yuppie pursuits -- a simple repetitive melody put through several tonal and textural changes, building grandeur as it goes. The album has a general bittersweet air, more sunset than sunrise, and balances its foot-tappers with its moments of quiet repose ("The Snake and the Lotus (The Pond)," the lengthy closing number "Wildlife"). An excellent place to start if interested in the band, and one of their finest hours.

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