When I reviewed Ringo’s Zoom In EP back in the spring, I wrote how nice it was not just to have new music from Ringo at this late stage in the game, but to have music worth hearing. Three of the numbers on it were pretty strong, and the other two not bad. Six months on, and he’s back with his second EP of the year (I don’t know why he’s developed this sudden aversion to putting out albums, though I guess spacing songs out in this way gives us hardcore devotees more to look forward to), Change The World. There are just four tracks this time around, running at a rather lean 13 minutes or so, but I guess it’s all about quality rather than quantity. So does the new release maintain the standards set by its surprisingly good predecessor? Well, yes and no. On first listen, I thought the new batch was something of a step down but, while nothing here matches the best moments on Zoom In, repeated listens reveal another solid, worthwhile effort.
As with all his other material in recent years, the EP was recorded at Ringo’s home studio in Beverley Hills with long-time collaborator/engineer Bruce Sugar, with various musician pals dropping in to add their contributions. Among the more notable guests this time out are Eagles star (and Ringo’s brother-in-law) Joe Walsh, Toto guitarist and Ringo regular Steve Lukather, renowned bassist Nathan East and New Orleans brass man Trombone Shorty. Three things stand out to me about the new set of songs. First, continuing in the vein of Zoom In and his 2019 album What’s My Name, they all sound very good. Ringo and Sugar have really got to grips with the mixing and production side of things – all the instruments and vocals knit together extremely well, while remaining crisp and clear, giving all the tracks a fat aural presence and some definite brio. They sound modern, but with a classic rock feel at the same time. Second, extending another recent trend in his work, the backing vocalists (men and women) are given a lot of prominence. In fact, in some places, they’re almost the lead vocalists, and certainly share the load with the Starr singer. I don’t have a problem with that though, it gives the tunes a different, almost soulful texture, and harks back to some of Ringo’s fine mid-’70s records. Last (but not least), his drumming is as solid as ever. He no longer has the songwriters around him to push him to the peerless heights he reached in the 1960s, but his playing is as perfectly judged and as instantly recognisable as ever. He can literally turn his hands to anything, and do it well.
Proceedings kick of with the title track, a jaunty, mid-tempo number with a low-key horn section (something else which has started to creep into his releases of late), a super-catchy chorus and a melody which sounds quite – yes – ‘Beatley’ in places. Lukather’s guitar solo quickly runs out of steam, but otherwise it’s a pretty decent track. Or at least it would be if we hadn’t had umpteen similar-sounding efforts from Ringo over the past decade or so which parrot the same peace-and-love platitudes (think ‘Peace Dream’, ‘Anthem’, ‘Give More Love’, ‘Send Love Spread Peace’, ‘Not Enough Love in the World’….you get the picture). Ringo has bemoaned on occasion people criticising him for constantly giving the peace sign, but you can see why some get fed up of it. While I admire his optimism and steadfast hippie principles, continually trotting out variations of the same wooly, sugary, greetings card-style theme, doesn’t always make for the most exciting music. There are worse messages, true, but he’s really labouring the point now. Still, if you can see past that or just take the song in isolation, it’s an enjoyable – if fairly lightweight – effort.
However, if you’re not into the bland sentiments of the lyric, you’re probably really going to struggle with the accompanying video. Made in collaboration with Kids In The Spotlight, a non-profit organisation that provides a visual platform for foster care children, it features a bunch of teens strutting their stuff next to Ringo’s peace sign sculpture in Los Angeles, joined by the man himself (wearing a CND T-shirt, naturally) towards the end. In between, some of the kids are let loose in the studio where Ringo sings against a backdrop of clips showing forest fires, wind farms, satellites, plastics in the ocean, public protests and, er, bullets and flowers. Subtle it is not. There’s even film of raindrops to accompany the line “like the rain washes over you”. Probably happy just to have a day off school, the youngsters are enthusiastic enough and there are peace signs aplenty, but there’s a cringeworthy Michael Jackson-style “children-are-our-future” vibe to the whole affair. I’m not entirely convinced they know who Ringo is, and I’d guess the chances of Greta Thunberg-types in their age group downloading or streaming the song must be in the region of net zero. Still, its heart is certainly in the right place and you can only marvel at Ringo’s spirit and perkiness. He does look remarkable for 81, and his new-found mane of jet black hair is surely a miracle of nature in its own right.
Back to the music, and ‘Just That Way’ is a full-blown reggae work-out, a sister song to Zoom In’s ‘Waiting for the Tide to Turn’ – it even includes a near-identical line telling us that playing reggae music will make everything turn out okay. Generally, though, the lyric is unusually love-lorn for a latter-day Ringo song, which makes for a refreshing change. It also has a really nice groove, and I particularly like the last part of the track when backing singers Zelma and Zho Davis really come into their own. It’s not a major effort, by any means, but it is growing on me.
‘Coming Undone’ is Ringo’s only co-writing credit on the EP, a collaboration with US singer-songwriter Linda Perry, formerly of the band 4 Non Blondes. A laid-back, rootsy shuffle with overtones of country and jazz, it’s a throwback to the more relaxed material which showed up on albums like Rotogravure and Bad Boy in the 1970s. The philosophical lyrics and amiable tune suit Ringo to a tee, and there’s a quite lovely trumpet solo (yes, you heard that right) from Trombone Shorty. It’s the best track on the record.
After Ringo’s bizarre, robotic take on the Motown classic ‘Money’ on What’s My Name a couple of years’ back, I feared the worse for his cover of the Bill Haley’s epochal ‘Rock Around The Clock’. Thankfully my concerns were unfounded, as he turns in a pretty decent version of the tune to round out the EP. It’s a straightforward, agreeably boisterous interpretation, featuring Joe Walsh on lead guitar, and reminds me a little of some of the tracks on Paul’s 1999 Run Devil Run collection of rock ‘n’ roll oldies. It’s a shame this is the only track without any kind of brass part, though, as I think a throaty saxophone break – as on the original – would’ve been a nice touch.
And that’s our lot, another four respectable additions to the ever-expanding Starr firmament. On the minus side, you could accuse him of treading water a bit, especially on the title track, and there’s nothing here which takes him anywhere near the outskirts of his comfort zone. It has the feel of a checklist: upbeat tune about peace and love? Check. Reggae number? Check. A little faux country? Check. Cover of an old rock chestnut? Check. It would be nice to hear him just changing the record a bit, rather than trying to change the world. But the bottom line is, taken on their own terms, all the tracks are enjoyable and fun to listen to. Put them alongside the (generally superior) contents of Zoom In, and you’ve got the makings of an above-average Ringo album. One can only wonder why he didn’t wait, record a couple more numbers, and put it all out as such. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time…