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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Ringo Starr: Ringo The 4th


1) Drowning In The Sea Of Love; 2) Tango All Night; 3) Wings; 4) Gave It All Up; 5) Out On The Streets; 6) Can She Do It Like She Dances; 7) Sneaking Sally Through The Alley; 8) Itʼs No Secret; 9) Gypsies In Flight; 10) Simple Love Song.

General verdict: If your name is Ringo Starr, please refrain from trying to embrace all the mainstream musical genres of the mid-1970ʼs at once; and certainly try to refrain from embracing them drunk.

It is fairly ironic that the only original album released in the Year of Punk by an ex-Beatle was Ringo The 4th — even more ironic that of all Beatle-related output in the 1970s, this was arguably the single most cringeworthy endeavour (though Ringoʼs own follow-up, Bad Boy, comes close). Almost everything about this record hints at a total lack of taste and complete ineptness, starting with the more-cheesy-than-sleazy sleeve photo (I presume nobody involved in that photoshoot was even remotely sober) and ending with its relative diversity, as the covered styles range from funk and disco to country-western and yacht rock — and feature a thoroughly unprepared and clueless Beatle drummer trying to get on top of them, but having obvious trouble already at the stage of unbuttoning his pants, if you pardon my being blunt.

Unlike Rotogravure, this does sound like it was produced by Arif Mardin: at least half of the songs feature very contemporary dance grooves, even if the proverbial disco bass lines can be found on maybe just one or two. The credits list is endless: you can find a young Luther Vandross and a slightly less young Bette Midler among the back vocalists, Johnʼs and Paulʼs collaborator David Spinozza on guitar, and even the great Tony Levin on bass (though he is co-credited along with three other bass players, so I have no idea where precisely they are hiding him). Needless to say, all the arrangements are immaculately produced and all the basic tracks laid down with professionalism and devotion. Unfortunately, it is all wasted.

It is not even that the songs are all that bad. Vini Poncia, who had been working with Ringo since 1973, is now promoted to chief co-writer, and Ringo has certainly had worse co-writers covering his back. The choice of covers is formally reasonable as well: ʽDrowning In The Sea Of Loveʼ was a solid soul standard by Joe Simon, and Allen Toussaintʼs ʽSneakinʼ Sally Through The Alleyʼ was an early Robert Palmer highlight. It is simply that none of these styles fit Ringoʼs voice or personality. ʽDrowning In The Sea Of Loveʼ is a turbulent tempest of a song, one that requires range and power, two things that were always out of Ringoʼs reach even back when he was not an alcoholic. Ten seconds into the songʼs intro, you know the man is going to flub it as soon as he comes in, and though he fights bravely, this ainʼt Sparta, son.

Basically, most of these tunes fall into two categories: deeply serious numbers for which Ringo lacks the authenticity and power of vocal conviction, or deeply corny numbers of a vaudeville variety that should, theoretically, be played for drunk sailors by guys in top hats and underwear. The fact that the two types are mixed in roughly equal proportions and play off each other like there was nothing to it only adds to the emotional confusion, and I cannot even say which of the two is a bigger turn-off. Probably the serious stuff, though, like ʽGave It All Upʼ — a sort of Willie Nelson-like dark country ballad through which Ringo largely just sleepwalks. You can sense potential here, and even the lyrics arenʼt a total loss (and lines like "as I look back and wonder / have I wasted my time?" definitely ring with a lot of relevance for Ringo in 1977), but one can only guess if the song could have made a bigger time with a better vocalist.

The single was ʽWingsʼ, a song that sounds so much like Foreigner that Ringo would eventually have to completely remake it in a poppier vein thirty-five years later. Here, too, the day could probably be saved with a different vocalist and some funky twists to the arrangement: as for Ringo, he might have felt like shit in 1977, but that did not help him convey it on the record. It is worth listening to Ringo The 4th attentively at least once to understand that not everything about it is just corny dance fluff — but you do have to know the historical context to guide you. Some people make great records about their personal crises and breakdowns... and some people are Ringo Starr, God bless his beautiful soul and limited artistic abilities.

In short, this is where I am driving at: this is a bad album not because it is so lightweight, but rather because it combines an utterly lightweight style with elements of dark, brooding substance. There is a certain perverted charm watching the man walk the line from the bluntly alcoholic pub-rock of ʽCan She Do It Like She Dancesʼ and the equally bluntly alcoholic club-pop of ʽOut On The Streetsʼ to the pain and suffering of ʽWingsʼ and ʽDrowning In The Sea Of Loveʼ, but I would never force anybody to experience it. Trust me, you donʼt really want to be friends with Ringo when he is down in the dumps; you really have to wait for peace and love. 

1 comment:

  1. As you've noted, the "this is Ringo's disco album" hype is overdone, although it is the closest to a disco album any of the fabbies ever got. Most of it isn't disco at all, and the few tracks that could be called disco are only disco-ey insofar as the rhythm tracks and production style.

    I always had a soft spot in my head for the languid, tropical-flavored "Gypsies in Flight", which hasn't a drop of disco in it. But the rest of this is just lifeless. Too many other things from the era to listen to that are meaningful and exciting; this is just washed-up has-been music.