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Reviewed by Will Harris
Starr did Stateside stints on Atlantic (Ringo’s Rotogravure, Ringo the 4th), Sony (Bad Boy), and RCA subsidiary Boardwalk Records (Stop and Smell the Roses) before taking a break from his solo recording career for the better part of a decade…which, given that he couldn’t even find a US label to distribute 1983’s Old Wave, was a reasonable move. Since returning to the studio in 1991 to produce the underrated Time Takes Time for Private Music, he released one proper studio album (Vertical Man), one Christmas album, and a “VH-1 Storytellers” collection for Mercury, then moved to Koch Records for another pair of studio releases (Ringo Rama and Choose Love).
And now, 33 years later, Ringo has come home to Capitol.
It’s a bit of a disconcerting homecoming, though, because if you listen to his rose-colored reminiscences on the title track of his new album, Liverpool 8, you might wonder if, indeed, he’s come home to die. Yes, Paul McCartney made his own bid to have more recent material played at his funeral with Memory Almost Full’s “The End of the End,” but at least Macca’s schmaltz was written strictly in generalities. Not so, Ringo. As it is, he’s rarely missed an opportunity to offer a musical or lyrical reminder that he used to be a Beatle, but with “Liverpool 8,” he pulls out all the stops.
Went to Hamburg, the red lights were on
With George and Paul, and my friend John
We rocked all night, we all looked tough
We didn’t have much, but we had enough.
Shockingly, the song is a co-write with former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, who really should’ve reined Ringo in a bit…or, at the very least, gotten him to lose the clichéd soundbite of crowd noise which erupts in the midst of Starr singing, “In the USA / When we played Shea / We were number one / Man, it was fun.” (Yes, it’s lazy journalism to drop too many lyrics into a review, but, really, these couplets are too excruciating not to share.) Alas, it looks like Stewart must’ve just worked on the music, leaving Starr go nuts on the lyrics, as their other co-write, “Gone Are the Days,” finds Ringo unabashedly repeating the phrase “It don’t come easy.”
Perhaps it’s best, then, that Stewart’s involvement in Liverpool 8 came about rather late in the game. Bullz-Eye’s review copy of the album came in a flimsy plastic sleeve without liner notes, but if you can believe what it says on Wikipedia, the CD booklet offers the credit, “Produced by Ringo Starr and Mark Hudson; Re-Produced by Ringo Starr and David Stewart.” If that’s accurate, it’d certainly explain why, despite Stewart’s presence, the majority of the album still sounds rather like the last several albums Ringo’s done. On the upside, though, it means that despite the Stewart-steered missteps, most of Liverpool 8 proves to be a pleasant-enough listening experience.
After all the bashing that’s gone on prior to this, it may prove surprising that an honest-to-God compliment has managed to slip into the review, but, c’mon, who doesn’t love Ringo? Even when working with the slightest material, he’s always been charming enough to inspire a smile or two, and Liverpool 8 is no exception; in particular, “Harry’s Song” is a pleasant shuffle with ELO-inspired backing vocals, “Pasadobles” and “If It’s Love That You Want” find Starr going country, and “Think About You” and “Tuff Love” are fine additions to his Beatle-esque back catalog of pop nuggets. In other words, Liverpool 8 is nowhere near as bad as its title track would have you suspect, but neither is anything approaching a classic.
See, here’s the thing, Ringo: you don’t have to keep making with all the wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to your past. We know you’re a Beatle. Hey, we even know your solo hits, too. In fact, we’re gonna lay it on the line: we love you, man. And because we love you, what we’d really like to see you do is step outside your comfort zone a little bit, like your pal Paul has been doing lately, and hire someone to work with you who isn’t afraid to tell you when a song’s not exactly firing on all thrusters…because even with just the two songs, it’s clear that Dave Stewart is definitely not that someone.