[Review] Penguin Cafe Orchestra: Broadcasting From Home (1984)

A slightly more serious work than albums past, but still charming in its unique ukelele string quartet way.

Kronomyth 3.0: O penguin of ear, your lovely mind.

Not the sanguine café orchestra of their second album, Broadcasting From Home is similar in sound but more atmospheric and restrained. Now, a restrained penguin (boing) you would say is no fun. There are some light moments on here (“Music For A Found Harmonium,” “Heartwind,” “In The Back of a Taxi”), but nothing as joyous as “The Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas” or “Penguin Cafe Single.”

Recorded over two years and featuring much of the same cast as the first two albums, Broadcasting is clearly part and parcel of Penguin Cafe Orchestra‘s original vision: mixing serious and non-serious instruments together into short songs that sound like sunlight in your ears. Only it’s a dappled sunlight this time, interspersed with passing clouds. A song like “Air,” featuring heavy harmonium and made of mist and lost sailors’ souls, or the stationary “White Mischief” gives the album a stilted feel suited to an E.G. artist (Brian Eno, Harold Budd).

Despite the more serious tones and addition of new elements like horns, Broadcasting isn’t a step forward so much as a step back from the joyous, toyous music of the second, eponymous album. When you have at your core three quarters of a string quartet, a certain amount of high-mindedness is to be expected. And not everything needs to be ukelele and milkbottle, as the excellent “Isle of View” demonstrates. Ultimately, Broadcasting is a good album in PCO’s by-now-familiar idiom that inches toward respectability. It’s not the arresting oasis you might remember, but there’s still rest and refreshment to be had here.

Original elpee version

A1. Music for a Found Harmonium (Simon Jeffes) (3:36)
A2. Prelude & Yodel (Simon Jeffes) (3:51)
A3. More Milk (Simon Jeffes/Geoffrey Richardson) (3:10)
A4. Sheep Dip (Simon Jeffes/Geoffrey Richardson) (3:57)
A5. White Mischief (Simon Jeffes) (5:48)
A6. In the Back of a Taxi (Simon Jeffes) (3:21)
B1. Music By Numbers (Simon Jeffes/Geoffrey Richardson) (4:41)
B2. Another One From The Colonies (Simon Jeffes/Neil Rennie) (3:04)
B3. Air (Simon Jeffes) (4:20)
B4. Heartwind (Simon Jeffes/Ryuichi Sakamoto) (4:11)
B5. Isle of View (Music for Helicopter Pilots) (Simon Jeffes) (4:29)
B6. Now Nothing (Simon Jeffes) (2:59)

The Players

Simon Jeffes (harmonium, cuatro, guitar, electric guitar, milkbottles, triangle, bass, violin, drum, piano, Linn drum computer, ukulele, metal plate, Omnichord, soloban, spinet, dulcitone, penny whistles), Hele Liebmann (cello), Geoffrey Richardson (viola, shaker, bass, electric guitar, penny whistle), Gavyn Wright (violin) with Marcus Beale (electric violin on B3), Dave Defries (trumpet, flugel), Fami (drum on A6), Mike Giles (drums on B5), Kuma Harada (bass on A1/B5), Trevor Morais (hi hat, wood block, cow bell), Steve Nye (piano), Neil Rennie (ukulele on A6, cuatro on B2), Annie Whitehead (trombone). Produced by Simon Jeffes; recording engineered by Ian Morais.

The Pictures

Cover paintings by Emily Young. Calligraphy by Ching Ching Lee. Design by Town & Country Planning.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc in 1984 in the UK and the US (Editions EG, EGED/EGEDC/EEGCD-38) and Japan (EG Records, 28MM-0382) with poster.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the Netherlands (Virgin, 787 447-2).
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 2008 in the UK (Virgin, EEGCDR-38) and on September 26, 2008 in Japan (EMI, VJCP-68885).

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