For an album so thematically obsessed with peace and love, Liverpool 8 traveled something of a rocky road to release. Initially, the record was set to come out last June, but after a bit of a falling out between Ringo and his long-time producer Mark Hudson, the release was pushed back to January. According to one story, the two rock veterans disagreed on synthesized sounds – Ringo is apparently quite taken with them, while Hudson prefers good old bass, guitar and drums.
No offense to Ringo, but in this case, he should’ve listened to his producer. Though Liverpool 8 is certainly a good album, with the roots-rock feel you’d expect from a man with Ringo’s background, it suffers from a bad case of overproduction. It’s so slick that it can feel too canned for rock’n’roll. The most grating issue here is an odd penchant for way-too-filtered group backing vocals. This makes the otherwise fine and bluesy “Think About You” sound disturbingly like a Shania Twain single. Sometimes you just want to shake him, because, in this case, less would have been more.
Fortunately, Liverpool 8’s sparkly finish is its only honest-to-God flaw, and the songs themselves are for the most part very good. The much-hyped single “Liverpool 8” is a rousing bit of Springsteen-esque arena rock where Ringo sings about his hometown and life experiences, first as a sailor and then as a Beatle, with disarming fondness and honesty. So what if some of his rhymes – “When I look back / it sure was cool / for those four boys / from Liverpool,” for example – are a tad ill advised? He sounds so damn sincere that, having grown up on footage of “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the record-breaking Shea Stadium concert, it’s impossible not to melt a bit. Wonderful pop songs like “Give It a Try,” oldies-sounding tracks like “If It’s Love That You Want” and the slower, more meditative “Love Is” combine to show that Ringo Starr really is one of rock’s few true elder statesmen. They even serve to smooth over some of Liverpool 8’s missteps, like the faux-Spanish “Pasodobles.”
In the right context, even Ringo’s obsession with effects can work out for the best. “Gone Are the Days” opens with an electronic drone that roughly approximates the sound of a sitar (though it’s hard to imagine that an actual sitar wouldn’t have sufficed). You can almost feel George Harrison’s influence coming through. When the song, almost half finished, leaves its backtracked vocals behind and opens up into surf-rock harmonies and just-twangy-enough guitars, you can see where he was going with it all.
The album finishes with “R U Ready?” a bluegrassy meditation on death with lyrics that bring to mind the Beatles’s fabled trip to India. It’s a genuinely uplifting song with Ringo’s trademark endearing wit – see “Krishna was a good man / Why was he so blue?” Ironically, though the song has the feel of an afterthought, it’s one of Liverpool 8’s strongest moments. After the final slide guitar solo ends and the saloon piano plinks its last, a stray bit of studio chatter sums up why. “That’s the real thing, isn’t it?” the voice asks. Liverpool 8 is at its best when it’s at its most real, when Ringo’s kind and loving demeanor manages to shine through the flashy studio work.
Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 stars