Review Summary: Some albums exist just because they can.
It may come as a bit of a surprise for some to learn that former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr has released, on average, an album every two years since 1998. And, if one winds the clock back to 1970 – the year that the Fab Four called it a day – one quickly discovers that the man’s total individual output actually stands at a whopping seventeen albums. Not bad for a man who was once described by George Martin as “[a drummer who] couldn't do a roll to save his life.”
The relative obscurity of Starr’s solo records has much to do with the fact that each of his releases have been accompanied by Starr's own tacit acknowledgment that he will likely never, ever top the legacy that he made for himself alongside McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon during the roaring sixties. Starr's solo discography thus far has been a hodge-podge of relative brevity and outrageous, sometimes even disappointing, simplicity. Fact-of-the-matter is, one can practically see Starr shrugging and mumbling, “Why even bother"” as the specter of his own legacy looms large before him each time he picks up his drumsticks or puts on his click track.
When viewed through that prism, the motivation behind the release of Ringo 2012
suddenly seems woefully inadequate. “Hey guys, this is what I’ve been doing in my spare time recently; if you don’t like it then there’s always Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
,” Starr seems to be telling us from his facsimile of nonchalance on the album’s front cover, peace sign akimbo. Coming from anyone else it would be the PR equivalent of a death wish, yet it seems utterly churlish to chide Starr for not doing anything to advance the state of rock music, particularly as he spent a solid eight years of his life basically forging its very identity. In a sense, the man’s earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants.
Which is, frankly, the sense that I get upon each listen to Ringo 2012
. Even from an aesthetical point of view, the album doesn’t make much of a case for it to be taken seriously: Ringo 2012
consists of a mere nine songs, four of which don’t even hit the three-minute mark (the album’s total run-time is a very meager 28:55). And this is not to mention that two cuts – “Wings” and “Step Lightly” – are in fact re-recordings of songs that Starr has previously released, and that “Think It Over” and “Rock Island Line" are actually covers of a Buddy Holly and John Lomax tune respectively. In other words, this leaves us with the whopping total of five all-new Ringo Starr pieces. Total run-time 17:48. Fantastic.
Album opener “Anthem” is one of these new cuts, and it sees Starr carefully negotiating his way through a series of blustery guitar lines courtesy of one Joe Walsh, making for a mildly compelling – but ultimately rather forgettable – tune. “This is an anthem of peace and love!
” announces Starr at the beginning of every turn, barely managing to disguise the fact that he hardly believes it himself. Elsewhere, “Samba” is a brief infusion of synthesized cultural flavor, while “In Liverpool”, which brings up the arrears, continues the drummer’s mildly obsessive fascination with the English borough, for no apparent reason at all (the most interesting observation Starr makes is that "the streets were long and wide, there were places we could hide
Tellingly, it is the re-recording of “Wings” that quickly resolves itself as the best song on Ringo 2012
, with Starr’s attempt at an updated vocal cut just about managing to speak to the zeitgeist of the original 1977 iteration. It is fitting on so many levels that Starr’s best effort on his latest studio release is the one that revisits the past he is so obviously nostalgic for; it's almost as if in being forced to square up against part of his own legacy, Starr finds out that things work out best when he lives by it, instead of trying to outlive it.