Ringo Starr’s nineteenth studio album goes down like a serving of musical comfort food. Much like a “value meal” at a fast food chain, Give More Love delivers exactly what one expects from it. And it may not linger in the memory for very long following consumption. If you’ve heard any of Starr’s recent releases, including 2015’s Postcards from Paradise, there aren’t any real surprises. At least not on the ten all-new tracks, each composed by Starr with one of his regular collaborators, that make up the proper album. Though not listed as such on the CD, the four “re-dos” of older songs are apparently bonus tracks (they’re also part of the digital edition, just not the vinyl).
Among the ten new cuts, album-opener “We’re On the Road Again” is the highlight—a boisterous, uptempo rocker built around a slithering guitar lick by Steve Lukather (of Toto). Paul McCartney provides a fluid bass line and occasionally pipes in with howled backing vocals. McCartney’s bass also anchors a melodic ballad, “Show Me the Way.” This isn’t the Peter Frampton tune, though Frampton shows up elsewhere as co-writer of the vaguely topical “Laughable.” Society is “going to hell,” Starr warbles, “but not forever” he’s quick to assure. The answer to all our problems? “We need to come together.” Back to the comfort food analogy, that’s Ringo for you—his lyrics are liberally sprinkled with callbacks to past glories, steeped in platitudes, and deployed within chord progressions often cobbled together from his other tunes.
In fact, the title track elicits the strongest sense of déjà vu. It’s essentially a rewrite of his George Harrison tribute “Never Without You” (from 2003’s Ringo Rama). Both songs were co-written with Gary Nicholson, who’s other contribution—the rollicking shuffle “Shake It Up”—is far fresher sounding (despite being decidedly retro). There’s usually one or two stylistic departures gracing any given Starr album (think “Samba” from Ringo 2012 or “Pasodobles” from Liverpool 8) but that doesn’t really happen here. There is, however, another entry in Starr’s intermittent series of songs about his pre-Beatles’ youth, “Electricity.” There’s also a traditional country number, lyrically steeped in heartbreak, held over from an aborted C&W project with Dave Stewart, “So Wrong For So Long.”
Suffice it to say, if you enjoy a new batch of Ringo-rock every couple of years, Give More Love fits the bill as well as anything in his surprisingly prolific late-period career. Which brings us to the re-dos. Best of the bunch is a remake of “Back Off Boogaloo” constructed from Starr’s original 1971 demo (featuring our drummer strumming acoustic guitar!), elements of the 1972 single, and brand-new contributions by the likes of Jeff Lynne and Joe Walsh. Not only is it better than the Harry Nilsson-produced “Boogaloo” redux found on Stop and Smell the Roses,” its Frankensteinian creation is practically an inside joke for anyone who remembers the original single’s promo clip (and 45 jacket).
Most obscure is Starr’s re-visitation of “You Can’t Fight Lightning,” a Stop and Smell the Roses outtake that only surfaced in the ’90s as a bonus cut on a long out-of-print CD reissue of 1981 album. That original version, produced by McCartney (who plays drums while Starr handles guitar), features Starr delivering minimalist lyrics in a Lou Reed-esque deadpan. He must’ve been fond of the track (officially inspired by Starr nearly being struck by lightning; McCartney has intimated it may actually have been a drug reference), because it was initially to serve as the title track of the album that became Roses. At any rate, the new version finds Starr handing over instrumental duties to indie rockers Alberta Cross who give the song a warmer feel than the spooky original.
Less engaging are the new versions of The Beatles’ “Don’t Pass Me By” and his 1973 Billboard number one “Photograph.” Yet another indie group, Vandaveer, handles instrumental duties on these two. While the band’s subtle approach lends the takes a pleasant lo-fi vibe, neither of these songs was crying out for a new version (especially after numerous inclusions on live albums over the years). Having musicians other than the usual Ringo-related suspects offers a bit of welcome sonic variety. But it would’ve been more interested if he’d resurrected more buried treasure like “You Can’t Fight Lightning” instead of overplayed concert staples.