Ringo Starr has a new five-track EP, “Zoom In,” due out March 19 from Capitol/Universal. Here, Bill King provides a preview. …
When Ringo Starr released his most recent album, “What’s My Name,” in 2019, he said he thought it probably would be his last, but that he wasn’t giving up recording.
True to his word, Ringo hasn’t done an album since, but he has joined Paul McCartney and others in issuing recordings made during the pandemic, releasing the self-produced “Zoom In,” consisting of five new tracks. He’s calling it an EP.
Is half a new Ringo album better than none?
Yes, of course. It’s always good to hear from Ringo again. But, does this new release rank with his best solo releases?
No, it does not.
Still, it’s a pleasant, if all too brief, outing, and it does have a couple of moments that stand out, with the opening and closing tracks being the strongest.
That first track is “Here’s to the Nights,” which was issued as a digital single just before Christmas. The track, running 4:05, is
an ode to friendship written by Diane Warren (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”).
Ringo is joined by a host of famous guest vocalists (who can be seen in the music video): Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Eric Burton (of Black Pumas), Sheryl Crow, Finneas, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Steve Lukather, Chris Stapleton and Yola.
(It’s worth noting that McCartney only occasionally is audible in the mix. It’s also noteworthy that one of Ringo’s most frequent musical partners of recent years, Dave Stewart, is absent this time around.)
The track is a stately, string-backed pop number that features some tasty guitar from Lukather, and a catchy singalong from the celebrity chorus: “Here’s to the nights we won’t remember with the friends we won’t forget.”
A favorite moment for me is at the very end, where Ringo, not primarily known as a vocalist, sustains the final note longer than you’d expect, before finally laughing, as if to say, “You didn’t expect that, did you?”
Next on the EP, which was recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West home studio in Beverly Hills, CA, between April and October, 2020, is the title track, “Zoom In Zoom Out,” a midtempo song that lopes along with a slightly bluesy backing. The 3:57 number was written by Jeff Silbar and Joe Turley.
It’s another message song, with the message this time being “we’re all in this together” and “love is what it’s all about.” As Ringo sings, “Zoom in to get a new perspective / Zoom out to see we’re all connected.”
The lyrics are a little out of the ordinary: Not many pop songs mention Galileo, or include a couplet like this: “Shift your paradigm / Seek and you will find.”
The EP’s third track, running 3:07, is “Teach Me to Tango,” written by Sam Hollander and Grant Michaels, with Ringo also getting a composing credit. He added a drum fill, along with his vocal, to a pre-recorded track the team sent him.
It starts out with a Latin flavor, as the title might lead you to expect, but, unfortunately, it’s mostly a pretty pedestrian midtempo rocker. Not much of a message here, other than “You gotta live it up / Until you get what you want, my friend.” The track comes to an abrupt ending.
Next up is “Waiting for the Tide to Turn,” a 3:54 track with a laid-back reggae beat. It was written by Ringo and his longtime engineer and co-producer, Bruce Sugar. The lyrics are a bit on the nose, as in “just play some reggae music and it will be a better day.” It also includes mentions of Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert and Burning Spear.
The EP winds up with another summation of Ringo’s philosophy, “Not Enough Love in the World,” a midtempo pop-rock number written by longtime All Starr Band member Lukather and Joseph Williams, who also arranged it. The longest track, at 4:16, it has a pretty catchy chorus that will stay in your head afterward, and a nice guitar solo by Lukather.
Overall, this is not a scintillating collection, but it is an enjoyable listening experience.
In explaining that he didn’t want to do another full album, Ringo has said that he wanted to get away from co-writing all the songs. Whereas on the best of his post-Mark Hudson albums, 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise,” Ringo co-wrote every number — teaming up with the likes of Lukather, Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Richard Marx and Van Dyke Parks — he takes only two co-writing credits on “Zoom In.”
It’s not the lack of Starkey writing credits that’s holding this mini-collection back, though; it’s the fact that none of these songs truly is memorable. That may be because the writers involved are a level down from some of his past collaborators.
For example, Ringo also did a reggae number, “King of the Kingdom,” on his “Give More Love” album, and it was much superior to the reggae track on this EP. The difference is that, on the earlier number, he was writing with Van Dyke Parks, rather than Sugar.
If Ringo wants to continue doing EPs, rather than full albums, but doesn’t want to work that hard at coming up with new songs, I think he’d be better off re-recording some of his older material, as he did on “Ringo 2012” and in the bonus tracks for “Give More Love.”
Or, perhaps he could tackle some of the oldies from his youth, as he’s also done occasionally in the past.
I’d also love to see him explore the blues-based material that he flirted with on “Give More Love” with the track “Standing Still” and others, or renew his old love affair with country music, as he did with “So Wrong for So Long” on that album.
In fact, a five-track Ringo country EP sounds like a great idea.
I hope this doesn’t come across as a slamming of “Zoom In,” because I have enjoyed listening to it quite a few times. It’s an amiable, respectable effort — just not very exciting.
We know Ringo can do better, but the bottom line is that it’s good to have him still putting out new recordings, even if they’re not breaking any new ground. As long as he’s still at it, there’s always a chance he’ll come up with something that matches his best work from the past.
William P. King