Since the Beatles' breakup, Ringo Starr has forged a moderately successful, if uneven, solo career. He reached a creative high point with 1973's Ringo, which produced the hit singles "You're Sixteen,"
"It Don't Come Easy," and "Photograph," among other stellar songs. Subsequent albums experienced varying degrees of success, but he underwent a creative renaissance with 1992's Time Takes Time, which spawned solid tracks like "The Weight of the World" and "Don't Go Where the Road Don't Go." Beginning with 1998's Vertical Man, Starr partnered with producer Mark Hudson (The Hudson Brothers) and further reignited his solo career. His last album, Liverpool 8, found Starr breaking away from Hudson to work with the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and experimenting with an electronic sound.
Starr's newest effort, Y Not, represents another milestone in his career—for the first time, the legendary drummer is producing himself. The result will please longtime Ringo fans, but at the same time it contains some of his most personal lyrics.
Standouts include the "The Other Side of Liverpool (co-written with Stewart), a dark look at growing up in the Dingle—a slum area of Liverpool—and eventually playing with such local groups as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. “The other side of Liverpool is cold and damp/ Only way out of there/ Drums, guitar and amp,” he sings, painting a drastically different picture than the idealized images in "Penny Lane" or "Strawberry Fields Forever." "Walk with You," which features Paul McCartney on bass and harmonies, is a touching ode to friendship. Starr and McCartney's voices blend seamlessly, adding to the song's nostalgic tone.
Despite this serious side, Starr shows he still likes to rock. British R&B vocalist Joss Stone drops by for the amusing "Who's Your Daddy," a battle-of-the-sexes tune that lets the duo exchange playful lyrics. "Fill in the Blanks," a catchy rocker, features Joe Walsh on vocals and guitar. "Can't Do It Wrong," a swaggering, bluesy number, contains some irresistible boogie-woogie piano.
As on such albums as Ringo Rama and Choose Love, Starr pays homage to his Beatles past, this time on "Peace Dream" (which also features McCartney on bass). He even mentions John Lennon's bed-in for peace, drawing comparisons between that incident and Starr's dream for peace today. On the title track, the music suddenly transitions to sitar and tabla-dominated rhythms, perhaps in an ode to George Harrison.
Overall, Starr shows skills as a producer. He knows what songs best suit his voice, and the drums and bass shine on various Y Not tracks. The lush, smooth harmonies recall past collaborator Jeff Lynne (ELO). However, he can become a bit too infatuated with studio effects, most noticeably on the title track. The electronic-dominated sound dates the otherwise fun song, demonstrating that he needs to show a bit more restraint as a producer. Also, like his other albums, the lyrics can sound a bit trite; often the listener can accurately predict what the next line will be in each song. In addition, Starr's voice has limited range, but his charm and enthusiasm tend to compensate for any lack of technical ability. His drumming remains strong and steady, driving each song with power.
Y Not is a standout in the Ringo Starr catalog, a risk-taking album that largely pays off. Additional guest artists such as Edgar Winter, Billy Squier, Gary Wright, and Ben Harper seem to re-energize Starr. While there are enough familiar sound elements to satisfy longtime fans, those who may have felt frustrated with the sameness of his last few albums will find much to like on Y Not. Dive into the album's positive spirit and typical Ringo charm.