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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

(the) Bongos - Beat Hotel

Name: The Bongos
Album: Beat Hotel
Year: 1985
Style: College Adult Alternative Pop
Similar Bands: Haircut 100, Later Squeeze, REM, Hooters
"One-Word" Review: New-Age-Wave
Based Out Of: Hoboken, NJ
Label: RCA, Victor
Beat Hotel - Cover & Insert
Beat Hotel - Back & Insert
Beat Hotel - Record
Beat Hotel (1985)
  1. Space Jungle (3:50) (Sample)
  2. Apache Dancing (3:08)(Sample)
  3. Brave New World (4:32)(Sample)
  4. A Story Written in the Sky (3:08)(Sample)
  5. Beat Hotel (4:00)(Sample)/
  6. Come Back to Me (3:26)(Sample)
  7. Splinters (3:40)(Sample)
  8. She Starts Shaking (3:24)(Sample)
  9. Totem Pole (3:16)(Sample)
  10. Blow Up (4:03) (Sample)
Album Rating (1-10):
6.0

Members & Other Bands:
Richard Barone - guitar, vocals, associate producer
Rob Norris - bass, background vocals (Zantees)
Frank Giannini - drums, vocals
James Mastro - guitar, vocals
John Jansen - produced, recorded, mixed
Vince Mauro - management
Fernando Diaz - percussion
Tom Tiscornia - Keyboards
Kate Pierson - vox on Apache Dancing
Mike Krowiak - recorded RPM Studios NYC
Bill Scheniman - recorded Power Station, NYC
Nelson Ayres - recorded House of Music, NJ
Don Sternecker - recorded Mix-O-Lydian, NJ
Bruce Buchhalter - mixed Electric Lady, NYC
Scott Litt - mixed
Greg Calbi - mastered Sterling Sound, NYC
Premier Talent - booking agent
John Bishop - cover illustration
Phil Marino - photography & design

Unknown-ness: I've never heard of them. From the artwork on the cover and back, they are decked out in ultimate 80's sweaters and shirts, so this should be a perfectly average new wave band. They look very charming and non-threatening. Even their band name, brings to mind an acoustic, non-amplified laid back image. So together, I am imagining a light and airy, harmless 80's new wave band.

Album Review: Having listened to it a couple of times now, all the elements that made a keyboard led new wave band are in place. Exotic, now dated sounds are all over the album. The record begins with Space Jungle. With a Dire Straits or Hooters stylized upbeat, happy start, the song is exactly as predicted. Non-threatening vocals, pleasant and jubilant. The song is catchy and rustic, with wood block percussion keeping pace in the background. The chorus is short and repetitive, and near the end, they mix it up by singing it an octave higher. "Apache Dancing" was their big single from this album, featuring "Kate Pierson" of the B-52s. The song starts of with jungle beats, and becomes a darkly melodic pop number. It has the great build that makes a great pop song: you keep expecting the verse to go right into the chorus. And when it does, it blasts out with force and power. There is a great music breakdown after the second chorus section, with equally catchy variants on the common melody. It ends into the chorus again, and the chorus, like the first track, pushes up an octave when the lyrics repeat. "Brave New World" sounds like Flock Of Seagulls, and is a slower, nebulous song, with a melody that is hard to pin down. But it is not short on synthesized keyboard sounds and what sounds to be more artificial drums. The chorus is somewhat bland in tune, saying "true love is ordinary, new love is what we have." The song has a guitar solo bridge from verse to verse, but it is still long and drawn out. The next song is an organic, witchy melody, bass driven, and jagged in construction. It is a fantasy based song, and the music seems to carry the listener among the clouds. "Beat Hotel" is very simple in structure, with both short verse & chorus segments. It has a powerful rhythm section. The chorus is quick and quite catchy 'hey what's your name, won't you take me to your room,' while the verse is jagged. A third slow, drawn out lyrical section is added toward the end of the song, before the already familiar music plays to an abrupt stop.

Guitar backed up with synthesizers starts off side 2. The verse of "Come Back to Me" ends each line with a chorus of voices singing a down-scale "Oooh-Oooh-Oooh" The chorus of the song is a short repetitive hook, echoed with a catchy, equally short guitar hook. "Splinters" starts out as a folky acoustic guitar that sounds psychedelic, from the era of Donovan. More instruments are gradually added, even a loud guitar, but the song continues to the end with the same folk mood. "She Starts Shaking" has a New Age feel to it, predominately mythical & spiritual. This stems from the rhythm of the vocals mixed with the plucked strings that echo behind the chorus. A jungle percussion beat starts "Totem Pole." The music moves away from a purely tribal beat and becomes typical 80's new wave, but the bongo and wood block beat remain through out the song. "Blow up" is a slightly evil song in tone, but it still has that ethereal feeling to it, which I attribute to New Age music. The chorus is powerful and jaggedly constructed, but it remains very catchy.

As I thought this to be more upbeat and pure new wave, I now think they have a darker, New Age style. It is adult alternative for a time before alternative music was around. The songs are for the most part, basic in structure, and even though there are many times when they mix the melody up, the changes are obvious, and predictable. Which is not to say that is a bad thing, it keeps the songs familiar.

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