It's not often that two former Beatles put out albums within one week of each. Late January/Early February brought Beatle fans a small treat with the nearly-simultaneous releases of Ringo Starr's Ringo 2012
and Paul McCartney's vocal jazz standard exercise Kisses on the Bottom
Starr's album, his seventeenth solo studio effort, is entirely reflective of the records he has been churning out since the pleasant 1992 CD Time Takes Time
. Prior to that surprisingly solid outing, Ringo's discography was a straight-up mess. With the exception of Sentimental Journey
(1970), an album of standard tunes, his best to date in Ringo (1973), the coked-out disco downer Ringo the 4th
(1977), and the tolerable, Joe Walsh-produced Old Wave
(1982, a record that was, tellingly, ONLY issued in West Germany and Canada), his records have ranged from just plain silly (Beaucoups of Blues
, Goodnight Vienna
) to just outright intolerable (you are Ringo's Rotogravure
, Bad Boy
, Stop and Smell the Roses
). In 1987, Starr was slated to release an album produced by the legendary Memphis producer Chips Moman (who is today most known for heading Elvis Presley's return-to-form classic From Elvis in Memphis
). The sessions were reportedly so bad that Starr stashed the tapes away. They have since circulated as some of the saddest bootleg recordings ever produced. After the debacle, Ringo cleaned up and devoted himself to becoming a professional ex-Beatle, putting on his hardly-ever-ending All Starr Band tour. Since then, Ringo Starr has released several solid, consistently listenable, highly Beatlesque (natch!) records that have been largely irrelevant.
is another of these albums. Surprisingly, it is an improvement upon his previous effort, Y Not
(2010). That album, one of the most mediocre of his post-Time Takes Time
batch of records, was one of his most introspective releases to date. But the record quickly loses steam. I say Ringo 2012 is a "surprising" improvement because it seems like Ringo Starr is completely out of ideas here...and Ringo Starr has never exactly been an "ideas guy." The album is incredibly brief, not even crossing the thirty-minute mark. Four of its nine tracks (his cover of Buddy Holly's "Think it Over," the folk standard "Rock Island Line," and re-recordings of "Wings" [originally featured on Ringo the 4th
] and "Step Lightly" [from Ringo
]) emanate from other sources. Two of its tracks retread ideas from the previous album in "Anthem," the proverbial boomer peace-and-love anthem which become a staple of the Richard Starkey songwriting corporation, and "In Liverpool," which harkens back to the material on Liverpool 8
(2008) as well. Despite all this regurgitation, the album moves by briskly and possesses no obvious clunkers—something which can't be said about most of his other albums. While few listeners under sixty will give this record much attention, it is a fun, breezy record that would probably appeal to even a few recent Tweeters who asked "WTF is Paul McCartney" after the telecast of the 2012 Grammy Awards.
Well, the release of Paul McCartney's awkward, 1940s porn-titled album Kisses on the Bottom
—a line from the standard "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" which opens the album—doesn't necessarily answer that question with any clarity. Kisses on the Bottom
, McCartney's first proper studio album since 2007's fair-to-middling Memory Almost Full
—is an odd project. It is the kind of album most successful pop icons McCartney's age (currently 69 years young) had recorded long ago. Hell, even Ringo Starr's first solo album—released all the way back in 1970—was an album consisting of big band pop standards (the underrated Sentimental Journey
). After listening to his new record, though, it makes sense that he waited. Sure, he'd dabbled with pop jazz before. The Beatles' "When I'm Sixty Four," "Your Mother Should Know," and "Honey Pie" establish McCartney's interest in the genre. In 1971, he cut one of the strangest recordings in his oeuvre, Thrillington
(under the moniker Percy "Thrills" Thrillington), an instrumental, big band version of his album Ram
. It was not officially released until 1977 and he didn't publicly admit he was responsible for it until the 1990s. The reason why now is the perfect time for McCartney to release this kind of record is that his voice—from years of singing with his classic Little Richard shriek—has recently showed signs of distress and has grown ever-so-slightly froggy. As a result, McCartney's vocals have a smoky quality that he couldn't have mustered at any other point of his career.
Like Ringo 2012
, Kisses on the Bottom
is quite listenable but not all that noteworthy. McCartney's voice is the centerpiece of the album. In fact, he only plays instruments on a few tracks, a rarity for a man who has recorded albums where he played ALL the instruments many times before. Popular contemporary jazz artist Diana Krall provides most the arrangements and supplies a bulk of the piano playing. Guest spots by Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder (who provides a nice harmonica solo on the closer, "Only Our Hearts") add to the proceedings without overwhelming them. The tracks with the more peppy arrangements, like the opener, "Only a Paper Moon" and, surprisingly, the usually cheesy "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" show McCartney at his best as a vocalist in this milieu. On the slower numbers, which are in abundance, McCartney just doesn't sound emotionally committed as a vocalist. The grand exception to this rule is the aforementioned and well-placed closer, "Only Our Hearts." The record is a pleasant enough. But—and I'm talking to the Brian Wilsons, Van Morrisons, and Elvis Costellos of the world—do we really need another album of vocal jazz standards by aging pop stars?