It’s been two full years since Ringo Starr has released a new album. His 2010 offering, Y Not, was his highest charting album since 1976 and was graced by collaborations with Paul McCartney, Richard Marx, and Joss Stone. If you’ve kept up with Starr’s career since his creative rebirth in the late ‘90s, the brand new Ringo 2012 won’t be too surprising. It’s tuneful, Starr’s drums are prominent in the mix, a few famous friends make cameos, and the lyrics are mostly lightweight peace-and-love affirmations. Actually the most significant aspect of the album is its length. The nine-song collection clocks in at a disappointing 29 minutes.
Only five of its songs are new, with one of four covers having been previously released. A laid-back take on Buddy Holly’s “Think it Over” is the same version included last year on the tribute album, Listen to Me: Buddy Holly. Starr covers the old skiffle standard “Rock Island Line,” a smash hit for Lonnie Donegan in 1955. Kenny Wayne Shepard contributes some crunchy guitar solos to make this one a fun retro-rocker.
More interesting though are the two times when Starr covers himself. “Step Lightly” originally appeared on 1973’s Ringo. In the press notes Starr says of that original recording, “It seems like it’s fifteen minutes long.” I disagree. I always thought it was a slyly subdued track on an album dominated by showy, flashy productions. At any rate, the new version is fairly typical of Starr’s latter-era sound. He also revisits “Wings,” originally a flop single from the 1977 flop album, Ringo the 4th. The new version is an improvement; livelier and benefiting from Joe Walsh’s guitar licks.
Speaking of Walsh, he shows up again for “Slow Down,” which he co-wrote with Starr. I’d originally expected this to be the old Larry Williams classic that was a hit for The Beatles. This new mid-tempo rocker is all about relaxing and taking life easy, apparently an oblique reference to Starr’s substance abuse problems in the distant past. As he puts it in the press notes, “I’m personally blessed that I got through that situation, and so is Joe [Walsh]. We both know about life in the fast lane.”
Co-written with Dave Stewart, “In Liverpool” is the third in a series of autobiographical songs about Starr’s formative years. The first was the title track of 2008’s Liverpool 8, followed by the notably darker-themed “The Other Side of Liverpool” on 2010’s Y Not. “In Liverpool” continues the theme of poignant nostalgia, with slightly distorted guitar work from Stewart adding a welcome rough edge. Much more typical of Starr’s modern work is the ode to his wife Barbara, “Wonderful,” which was written around the line, “The worst it ever was, was wonderful.” The album opener “Anthem,” co-written by Starr and Glen Ballard, is a chugging rocker with the usual pleas for peace and love. Note to Ringo: the best musical anthems don’t actually need to announce “this is an anthem” throughout the song.
Ever since Starr’s split with longtime producer and co-writer Mark Hudson after 2005’s Choose Love, the cloying Beatle-isms that peppered most of his songs have disappeared. While I don’t mind the more streamlined production of his most recent albums, I think the overall songwriting quality diminished somewhat with Hudson’s departure. Ringo 2012 is a very minor entry—almost a footnote—in Starr’s discography. It really needs a few more strong songs to feel like a fully realized album.