After showing they could adapt nicely to big-league record making with their major-label debut, the 1983 EP Numbers with Wings, the Bongos lost a bit of their footing on the 1985 album Beat Hotel. It was the first time the Bongos had recorded a full album in one go (1982's Drums Along the Hudson was assembled from singles, EPs, and various stray tracks), and the quality of the songwriting isn't especially consistent; for every off-kilter gem like "A Story (Written in the Sky)," "Blow Up," and "Splinters," there's a throw-away like "Space Jungle" and "Totem Pole." The edgy energy that enlivened the big-sounding production on Numbers with Wings is sadly absent on these sessions, and through the deep and spacious sound of Numbers with Wings unexpectedly suited the Bongos, Beat Hotel sounds slick but shallow, with the addition of additional synthesizers and percussion cluttering the melodies without adding much lift, and Richard Barone and Jim Mastro's guitars feeling flat and lacking their usual presence. Numbers with Wings found the Bongos learning how to marry Barone's eccentric melodic and lyrical ideas to a more polished production style and still sound strong, but John Jansen (who engineered Numbers with Wings) doesn't manage the same feat after moving into the producer's chair, and ultimately, Beat Hotel makes a smart and imaginative band come off as facile and a bit silly. Beat Hotel was also the group's final album (they were said to be working on another LP when they called it quits in 1987), which makes the disappointment of the album all the more severe; a band as consistently interesting as the Bongos deserved to go out with something special, but Beat Hotel is the least interesting record they would release.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming