Universal Music Group [Release date 25.10.19]
The world’s most famous drummer doesn’t need to keep bringing out new albums and could rest on his laurels and enjoy the fruits of his past labour but no, here is a man who obviously still loves writing and playing new music and the whole of this, Ringo Starr’s twentieth solo album, is shot through with his main tenant on love and peace for all. It’s a thoroughly upbeat album and you can tell that everyone involved had a huge amount of fun making it, Starr surrounding himself with some of the best and biggest names in the business, all who add their own little touches to the release. Harking back to years gone by, it’s also a nicely compact thirty-four minutes long, eschewing the need to fill the disc with as much material as possible and going for quality rather than sacrificing everything for quantity. Each of the ten songs get in, do what they need to do and then get straight out, perfectly capturing the spirit of what ‘pop’ music truly is. ‘What’s My Name’ isn’t just a collection of throw-away songs by any stretch of the imagination though and is filled with some great writing and some sparkling performances by the all-star(r) musicians.
‘Gotta Get Up to Get Down’ kicks off the album in feelgood fun style, a shuffling beat and a touch of funk starting the party. Featuring the unmistakable guitar and vocals of Eagles mainstay Joe Walsh along with some great clavinet playing by Edgar Winter, the track worms it way into your subconscious and compels feet to tap and heads to nod as Starr and Walsh encourage everyone to open up and get on with their lives. Some rippling boogie woogie piano opens ‘It’s Not Love that You Want’, the track rocking with a West Coast bar band feel and instantly brings images of a bunch of musicians jamming in a circle, all smiles and laughter. Former Eurythmic Dave Stewart adds his own style to the mix, his guitar playing and grasp of melody bringing echoes of prime Jeff Lynne and ELO.
Having been in the biggest band in popular music history, it’s only natural that there’s the occasional nod to the global phenomenon that was and is the Fab Four. Not only is there a lovely subtle tribute in the John Lennon badge that Starr wears on the cover artwork but, joined by his fellow Mop Top Paul McCartney on bass and vocals, the two old friends tackle Lennon’s ‘Grow Old With Me’ and this alone is bound to draw the curious in. Thankfully it more than stands up to the scrutiny and hype, a lovely, wistful ballad that is one of the highlights of the album and is one of the best covers of the late Beatles songs that you’ll hear. Once again featuring Joe Walsh, it’s fascinating to listen to how each musician contributes to the whole and, as with the rest of the album, all ego is left at the door to produce a piece of music that is the focus in of itself and not its starry cast.
‘Magic’ continues the decidedly upbeat vibe, this time featuring the superb guitar skills of Toto’s Steve Lukather and comes across as something that would have fitted perfectly into the glorious mid 70’s rock mould of bands such as Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan. This is followed by a re-imagined ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and whilst the Beatles cover of the original Motown song didn’t stray too far from the source material, this version is updated to sound like something from a 1980’s sci fi film. It’s a bit of a leftfield choice and doesn’t entirely work but it’s fun none the less and a lot more palatable to most ears than the version done by The Flying Lizards in 1979. For those unsure of the previous track, ‘Better Days’ sweeps in and really asserts its authority with a feel that is the spiritual brother of The Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’, replete with brass section, gospel tinged backing vocals and a strutting guitar riff.
The album benefits having been recorded in the very easy going surroundings of Starr’s home studio and this, along with production duties by the man himself, gives it a loose feel that befits tracks like ‘Life is Good’ and ‘Spread Love Send Peace’, both full of the warmth of summer. The former in particular has the same sublime sense of assurance that so characterized his former bandmates legendary Travelling Wilburys collective, as Nathan East, Benmont Tench and Steve Lukather all show why they are at the top of their game but also happy to let everyone else have the spotlight. ‘Thank God for the Music’ is a statement that is so crystal clear and passionate, again bringing more colours to the already rich palette of what is an album that never stops moving and searching. High powered closer ‘What’s My Name’ is a bluesy Southern Rock stomper, written by Men At Work frontman Colin Hay, its travelogue lyrics bearing witness to a life lived and loved making music through the years and spanning the World.
Ringo: still fab, still fun and still making great music. ****
Review by Paul Monkhouse
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