The latest studio album from Ringo Starr, Postcards from Paradise, is another easy-going collection of pop rock tunes. If you’ve heard any of his albums beginning with 1992’s Time Takes Time (an terrifically tuneful album, by the way), there aren’t many surprises. That’s both comforting and disconcerting. Ringo Starr turns 75 this year. He was just inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his solo career. He’s been on the road consistently with the All-Starr Band since 1989. You’d think he might have more of a point of a view to offer as a singer-songwriter than these songs exhibit.
Then again, maybe the simple truth is no one is listening to Ringo albums for introspection. Still, I think it would be interesting to hear Starr dig a little deeper than the generic optimism of “Let Love Lead” and “Bridges.” Here he has co-written each track, working with the likes of Dave Stewart, Joe Walsh, and Todd Rundgren. One of the most irresistibly fun tunes, the reggae-flavored “Island in the Sun,” is even credited to the entire All-Starr Band. Unfortunately there’s an overall “sameness” to Starr’s music that longtime listeners will immediately recognize with the predictable hooks and chord changes heard in many of the album’s 11 songs.
For better or worse, former collaborator Mark Hudson brought a Beatlesque freshness to the production on albums like Vertical Man, Ringo Rama, and Choose Love. The shimmering harmonies and varied arrangements of those albums made them consistently listenable and well worth revisiting. At the same time, Hudson’s Beatle-isms could become cloying and overdone. Since their falling out, Starr has favored a drier, less nostalgia-oriented sound. Perhaps Hudson could’ve made the title track, a lyrical collage consisting primarily of Beatles song quotes, come across with a bit more charm. As it is, “Postcards from Paradise” is the most depressing track on the album. Bereft of original ideas, its shameless nostalgia stands in contrast with the “Not Looking Back” sentiments expressed only two tracks later.
Bottom line: Postcards from Paradise is a big improvement over the 29-minute Ringo 2012. New songs like “Confirmation” and “You Bring the Party Down” reveal a re-energized Ringo Starr. Here’s some wishful thinking, however. Wouldn’t it be cool to hear rock’s most famous drummer release an entirely instrumental album, one that allowed him to really cut loose on his primary instrument? Starr’s singing voice has certainly aged well, but it was never much to begin with. His vocal delivery gets tiresome over the course of an album, but his drumming doesn’t. Instead of being locked into the similar-sounding grooves he generally works on albums like Postcards, it would be interesting to hear him explore his kit with the reckless abandon we heard on, say, Yoko Ono’s 1970 classic Plastic Ono Band.
Catch Ringo Starr and the All-Starr Band on tour beginning in October 2015, check the official website for a full itinerary and additional details. An affordable edition of Starr’s previously “limited edition”-only book, Photograph, will be available from Genesis Publications on September 21.