While everyone remembers Ringo Starr as the affable drummer of The Beatles, he is also generally considered the least important member of the band. This may be a fair characterization; his contributions to the Beatles’ repertoire — from “Yellow Submarine” (off “Revolver,” 1966) to “Octopus’s Garden” (off “Abbey Road,”1969) — were invariably goofy, almost childish in execution. Considering the monumental impact of hits written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Starr’s songs often paled in comparison, both in his vocals and, for the few songs he penned himself, in his songwriting. Even his impeccable feel for drumming is often dismissed by those who regard him as an afterthought. Yet for someone who constantly stood in the shadows of his more overtly talented band-mates, Starr always maintained an endearingly positive attitude; it seemed he was just happy to be a part of the band.
Remarkably, this jovial demeanor, reflected in many of his Beatles songs, has stayed with him through the years. Starr’s latest record, “Postcards from Paradise” (released March 31), is a cheery addition to his eighteen-album solo career. Predictably, the songs on the album don’t do much to push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll — they are far from profound, and they don’t try to be. However, what may easily be regarded as a flaw is actually what makes the album so characteristically Ringo. The songs make up for their lack of inventiveness with a sincerity that the listener can’t help but enjoy.
The first track, “Rory and the Hurricanes,” is an easy-going tribute to Starr’s pre-Beatles days. The song nostalgically recounts the tale of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Starr’s former band. Amidst a chorus of female singers and bubbly synth lines, Ringo’s distinct voice carries along effortlessly. “Rory” is a sweet introduction to the album, but perhaps sells it a little short. Each of the consequent tracks improves upon the campy clichés of the opening.
“You Bring the Party Down” creates some intrigue with its powerful rhythms and slinky guitar licks. Co-written by Toto’s Steve Lukather, the song eventually erupts into a guitar solo followed by a groovy percussive break. As in the first track, a chorus of female singers supports Starr and rounds out the rough edges of his voice.
The title track, “Postcards from Paradise,” is another standout on the album. Though its lyrics are quite cheesy, built up of various song titles from the Beatles’ catalogue, the song’s psychedelic undertones captivate the listener’s attention. During the catchy, harmonized choruses, brandishes of a distorted guitar and a squealing synth generate a trippy vibe reminiscent of some of the later Beatles works. On the drums, Starr shows off his masterful feel, laying down a straight beat for most of the track but diverging into lively fills and flourishes at the right moments.
Later in the album, the horns-heavy carnival pop of “Bamboula” and the reggae-infused “Island in the Sun” provide buoyant tunes to which one can’t help but nod along. In this section of the album (about three quarters of the way through), the focus shifts from guitar-heavy rock to a more eclectic approach.
As amusing as many of the tracks on “Postcards” are, the lyrics remain quite kitschy throughout and sometimes detract from the striking musicality of some songs. Furthermore, the record’s incessant cheer may get a bit tiresome for listeners by the album’s end. If you take the tracks one at a time, though, it’s easy to absorb the musical merits of each. Starr’s new album is a strong, heartfelt addition to his extensive career. And on another note, it’s impressive that a 74-year-old has the drive and energy to continually release new music every few years. It’s even more impressive that his music still maintains a youthful flare, never jaded or cynical in its delivery.
Starr’s album release stands in anticipation of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18. Though he will be the last Beatle to receive this honor, it would be remiss to think of him as the least deserving.