For a Beatle, Ringo Starr has had a relatively quiet latter-day solo career. After salvaging his tattered reputation in 1992 with Time Takes Time -- his first album in nearly a decade and his first in nearly 20 years to serve his legend well -- Starr settled into touring regularly with his ever-changing All-Starr Band, documenting almost every tour with a live album, then turning out a new studio album every three or four years. After Time Takes Time, all these albums were recorded in collaboration with Mark Hudson, best known as one of '70s popsters the Hudson Brothers but also an L.A. session man who slowly became Ringo's right-hand man. Starr's albums with Hudson never grabbed much attention outside the Beatles hardcore -- unlike Time Takes Time, they were rarely studded with stars and once he decamped from the majors to the indie Koch in 2003, they never received much of a marketing push, either, so they played solely to the devoted, who were always satisfied by the happily Beatlesque music Starr made with Hudson. This collaboration continued into 2007 as the duo embarked on what would become the Liverpool 8 album, but they had a falling out in the final stages of recording, with former Eurythmic David A. Stewart brought in at the last minute to polish up the album and collaborate on its title song. Stewart helps give Liverpool 8 the gloss the album needs as it's not only Ringo's first major-label album in five years, it's his homecoming to Capitol Records, the label that released the Beatles albums and Starr's first, best solo albums (highlights from which dominated the 2007 hits comp Photograph, released a matter of months before Liverpool 8).
On the surface, Liverpool 8 does indeed feel a bit like a comeback: Stewart's "re-production" -- so named in the liner notes as he gussied up Hudson's original production -- turns the music shiny and sleek and there are several cheerful forays into baby boomer nostalgia, whether it's the outright reference to "It Don't Come Easy" on "Gone Are the Days" or Ringo's stroll through his back pages on "Liverpool 8," reminiscent of Paul McCartney's marveling at his past on "That Was Me," a rollicking number on his 2007 album Memory Almost Full. At times, Liverpool 8 recalls Memory in how it balances nostalgia and mortality -- on "R U Ready" Ringo jovially stares into the great beyond -- which is just enough of a hook to reel in boomers who haven't listened to Ringo in years. Nevertheless, this sentimentality, like the Stewart reproduction, is just window dressing on an album that is essentially not all that different than the three that preceded it. Liverpool 8 is a relaxed, amiable collection of friendly pop tunes: it's nothing too flashy and it has no one tune that calls attention to itself, but it's a well-constructed, casually charming pop record. In a way, the smaller-scale productions of the Koch records served latter-day Ringo better, as they were as humble and unpretentious as his music, but even if Liverpool 8 is a little bit too pumped up and slick for its own good, Starr remains eminently likable, which is enough for those who have enjoyed Ringorama or Choose Love. However, it may not be enough for those hoping for another Ringo or Goodnight Vienna, which is what the big marketing push, complete with the album's release as a USB bracelet, suggests it is. Liverpool 8 is not another Memory Almost Full, an album that offers enough reminders of the past but is about the present; it is merely another good latter-day record for Ringo, filled with songs about love and spiked with a ridiculous novelty number (this time, it's "Pasodobles," where Starr warbles about a Spanish dance). For those who already love Ringo, that's plenty good enough, but for those who often (and often unfairly) run the good man down, this is too light, easygoing, and sometimes unapologetically silly to change their minds.