Liverpool 8 is the work of an artist completely at ease with himself. And why not? Ringo Starr is a genuine icon of pop music, a unique and influential percussionist, and an instance of how mammoth celebrity can be sanely navigated. He has nothing to prove. Yet, for those same reasons, the simplicity and humble warmth of Liverpool 8 are even more disarming.
Starr was famously the “quiet” Beatle. “Quirky” would fit as well. His taste for the cheery and whimsical marked many of the Fab Four’s songs that he helmed vocally, like “Octopus’s Garden”, “Yellow Submarine”, and the self-effacing “With a Little Help from My Friends”. This fondness continued through his solo efforts and, decades later, Starr remains a reservoir of fetching sentiment. Liverpool 8 brims with bright pop tunes that tirelessly extol the virtues of peace and love. It’s like a warm blanket, a temporary respite from reality’s cold touch. Observe a number of the song titles: “For Love”, “Tuff Love”, “If It’s Love”, and “Love Is”. They are a little silly and certainly lack the stabs at importance that weigh heavy on much of the output from pop’s elder statesmen (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp, to name a few). Starr knows this and doesn’t mind. He isn’t of the comportment to wade into the sludge of politics. He’s a flower-power throwback who’s happy to be idealistic and a touch fantastical.
Though the message is old fashioned, Starr and co-producer Dave Stewart (formerly of Eurythmics) craft songs that sound both fresh and pleasingly familiar. Like the varied pop of the Traveling Wilburys’ albums, Liverpool 8 is a polished grab-bag of genres: honky-tonk, blues, anthemic rock, psychedelic, and country. Its production is uniformly crisp and makes a winning package out of the different styles. “Think About You” bobs to strutting honky riffs that pave the way for one of Starr’s many sing-a-long choruses. “Now That She’s Gone Away”, a nervy and moonlit shot of blues rock, features the album’s only less-than-sunny stretches. Otherwise, Starr is a bundle of smiles. He basks in the seaside acoustic lilt of “Give It a Try” and goes all chipper on “If It’s Love”, which sounds like mid-tempo Cars with a splash of old-time country rock. Starr obviously isn’t an innovator, as he once was on the drum kit. But he can comfortably pull off the genre-jumping trick.
Liverpool 8 is more about the sentiment than the sound. Peace and love are on Starr’s mind and, curiously, he carries on as if the world isn’t in shambles. On “Love Is”, he sings “A war will still go on”, which is a line too vague to be referencing any war in particular. Yet that’s the nearest Starr comes to broaching current affairs. He’s content to be outside the fray, which some might chide as a blinkered approach. But, having emerged intact from the mayhem of Beatlemania and its aftermath, Starr seems entitled to all the optimism he wants. If nothing else, his sincerity is beyond reproach. “We know the sun will always shine / I’m yours and you are mine”, he croons on “For Love”. Later, on “Gone Are the Days”, he offers the simplest of advice: “You could choose love / It’s an open door”. Such fluff lines come again and again, but what makes them work is their unaffected tone. Even death loses its sting in Starr’s sprightly handling. “R U Ready” is a charming folk-pop ditty that envisions life’s end as a simple matter of saying yes: “Someone’s there to catch you / When you’re ready to let go”.
For all his youthful exuberance, Starr tackles one subject in a respectably mature manner: nostalgia. Liverpool 8 is the neighborhood he lived in as a boy, a place of obvious emotional freight. On the rousing title track, he starts there in fond remembrance and then goes on to recall Hamburg where the Beatles played an early gig and Shea Stadium where their magnetic appeal hit like a force. But Starr keeps at a distance from the past, never pining or betraying a hint of displeasure with the present. He almost downplays those fat-cat days more than doting on them: “When I look back / It sure was cool / For those four boys / From Liverpool”. That’s all he chooses to muster in reflecting on pop music’s most historic group. Clearly he’s a man of the moment.
On “Harry’s Song”, a chilled lounge amble, Starr asks how to reclaim the past. The answer: “Just keep on growing”. In other words, like youth, adulthood can be a time of pleasure and fulfillment. What a treat Ringo Starr is. An aging pop artist proud to be just that.
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// Notes from the Road
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