There could come a point in any legend’s life where they go from untouchable to on the ropes, such is the frailty of humanity. It’s not something you want to see, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Ringo Starr is especially someone you don’t want to see go that way – not only is he a legend, an icon, he’s also a Beatle.
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Despite this, Starr has never been the coolest rock star out there. Even in the Fab Four, he was the underdog. In the decades since he and his mop-topped bandmates parted ways, he’s never tried to capture whatever the cultural zeitgeist is at the time, happy to just stay in his lane. So it is on ‘What’s My Name’, his 20th solo album, which comes accompanied by a cast of guests, including members of his All-Starr Band and, of course, fellow Beatle Paul McCartney.
Immediately, though, ‘What’s My Name’ dares you to continue listening, to see if you can make it through its first song without spontaneously combusting from second-hand embarrassment, a spectral groan of “Grandaaad” escaping from your ashes as they sizzle and singe. “I know a man who works out on Twitter / He’s just getting mad, he’s not getting fitter,” Starr assesses in the bluesy ‘Gotta Get Up To Get Down’’s opening line.
This isn’t the worst part though. Later, in a voice that sounds like a terrible comedian trying to come up with their own variation on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Airplane food, what’s up with that?”, The Eagles’ Joe Walsh yowls “Everybody’s on the internet, what’s up with that? / You might just wait for your brain to collapse.” It’s so cringeworthy you can almost feel your bones wincing.
But perhaps opening with such a heinous song is actually a genius move. In isolation, they might not fare so well but, after that, nothing else sounds as bad. ‘It’s Not Love That You Want’ is a welcome respite, and ‘Grow Old With Me’, penned by John Lennon and featuring McCartney on bass and backing vocals, sounds positively dreamy. There are still hiccups along the way, like a new version of Motown classic ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, which finds Starr somewhere between pub crooner and auto-tuned robo-pop star.
As you might expect from Starr, who is synonymous with throwing peace signs and his catchphrase “peace and love”, ‘What’s My Name’ is full of positivity. It’s there in the jaunty ‘Better Days’, the pop-rock of ‘Life Is Good’, and the piano-led ‘Thank God For Music’. That catchphrase, albeit paraphrased, pops up in ‘Send Love Spread Peace’, the clear highlight of this album. Over chugging guitars and sharp synths, Starr challenges listeners to “imagine what a wonderful world it could be / Send love, spread peace.”
It’s all the proof that’s needed to show Starr should quit griping about technology and stick to what he does best – putting up those two fingers and casting out messages of peace, love, hope, and optimism.