Few other superstar artists have taken advantage of the many doors that open up to them with as much enthusiasm as Ringo Starr. As a Beatle, he’s got fuck-you money for days. So why not indulge in an album of jazz standards (1970’s Sentimental Journey), star in a crummy prehistoric comedy (1981’s Caveman), and hit the road every few years with a gaggle of other musicians who are past their stadium sellout years?
It’s also why he has been able to release albums on the regular since 1992’s Time Takes Time, each one roping in his famous friends and admirers to join in the fun. No one, it seems, can say no to Ringo.
With expectations decidedly low from both creator and consumer, it’s little wonder that none of the albums he has recorded in this 25-year stretch could be considered a masterpiece. There are highlights on each one, but they were never meant to produce sweat and worry from Ringo and his collaborators. It’s more like a garage dad band if that garage was the size of a football field and filled with vintage autos.
Which brings us to his 19th studio effort, Give More Love. It’s a record that meets all expectations: a breezy, nostalgic affair with a much-loftier pedigree than it probably needs. But as he has proven throughout his life, Ringo’s charm and enthusiasm win out in the end.
There are few truly wince-inducing moments through this tidy little collection, and when they arrive, they’re blessedly brief. “We’re on the Road Again”, the warm sentiments of being on tour with your buddies that kicks off the album surely didn’t need co-writer Gary Lukather lathering it up with guitars. And Ringo sending his voice through an Auto-Tune-style effect on “Electricity”, his ode to his one of his first bands, Rory & the Hurricanes, was a strange choice. (The less we speak about his reggae tribute to Bob Marley, written with Van Dyke Parks, the better.)
Being the amusing uncle of rock ‘n’ roll, we forgive him these minor infractions. Because he’ll turn around and win you over with a heartfelt love song written for his wife, Barbara Bach, featuring a nice bass part from his old band mate Paul McCartney, or drop “Shake It Up”, a peppy rockabilly tune that would sound great coming out of a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox.
The guest list for this album comes with few surprises; the names that appear in the liner notes — Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, Edgar Winter, and Richard Marx, among them — are all folks who have participated in Ringo’s All-Starr Band tours or are long-standing buddies. None of them, though, leave too distinctive a mark on the record. Peter Frampton does toss a little talk box guitar at “Speed of Sound”, but otherwise the players tamp down their musical personalities for the sake of the cause. That seems an odd move for someone like McCartney to pull, but that’s the level of respect that all these folks have for their bespectacled buddy.
Ringo does hedge his bets with Give More Love by including, as bonus tracks on the CD and digital version, some renditions of his best known songs. The only one worth paying much attention to is a version of “Back Off Boogaloo” built around a demo recording he apparently recorded in 1971 that was recently dug up after a move to Los Angeles. The rest are unnecessary, shapeshifted takes on tunes that were near perfect to begin with (“Photograph,” “Don’t Pass Me By”). Why do it? Because he can. And because he knows his fans. They stick with Ringo because they know they’re gonna hear the hits eventually.
Essential Tracks: “Shake It Up”, “Give More Love”, and “Show Me the Way”