1978’s Some Girls had rejuvenated The Rolling Stones in ways I’m sure not even they themselves would have expected, managing to enliven their fans with the capacity to surprise even a few of their harshest critics. However by 1980, all that had changed. Because Emotional Rescue was – in almost every respect – the band’s most predictable and formulaic effort to date. Gone were the days when they were at the forefront of the cultural Zeitgeist, wanting to paint the world black while yet getting no satisfaction. Instead they seemed more concerned with commercial satisfaction than anything else.
I’ve often thought that The Rolling Stones and modern technology were never really suited to one another. Like a dysfunctional marriage, you always know how it will turn out. And this LP is no exception. The groove based “Dance (Pt. 1)” is a rock-soul-disco hybrid that never really takes off, despite the loose party atmosphere on display, which is both stylish and effortless in equal measure. Clearly times were changing, for better or worse, so one can’t blame The Stones for wanting to update their sound a little.
“Summer Romance” is one of those buoyant rockers Jagger and Richards know how to churn out in their sleep. What made albums such as Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street great was their sense of spontaneity and lack of predictably. But you’ll get none of that on this LP I’m afraid. Here the band are simply going through the motions, whether it’s the reggae-inspired “Send It Me” (mail-order women anyone?), the rock-by-numbers of “Let Me Go”, or “Indian Girl”, on which Jagger sounds about as sincere as Castro lecturing Cubans on the virtues of capitalism, it’s obvious that their best days were behind them.
Side two gets going with “Where the Boys Go”, a song which resembles what the Sex Pistols might have sounded like if they had of decided to become an R&B band. Far better is the bluesy “Down in the Hole”, a style The Stones have always excelled at, and should have stuck to, regardless of fashion. The title cut, “Emotional Rescue” is a bit of blues-disco schmaltz, and a poor cousin to “Miss You”. This is what happens when you let Jagger sit at the driver’s wheel, while Richards reclines on the back seat with Ron Wood, sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Now it’s true that Jagger has sex the same way most people do housework. A man who obviously has the sexual appetite of half the world’s male population combined. But what happens when he isn’t getting any, or has to go without for a couple of hours? He writes a song such as “She’s So Cold”, a shallow ode to libidinal frustration if there ever was, which isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable. In fact, the song is downright addictive. All the necessary elements are in place, yet how The Stones could, in just over a decade, go from “Sympathy for the Devil” to singing “I’m so hot for her, I’m so hot for her’ is a rock and roll travesty of the eighth degree, and the sort of charade many critics still find difficult to forgive.
We end with the bitter, soulful ballad of “All About You”, sung by Richards, which could be about his relationship with Anita Pallenberg, or Mick Jagger. I guess it doesn’t matter, except that it’s one of the best songs of the album. For while Mick has more honeyed and versatile tonsils, Keef’s own voice is like sandpaper in comparison, though refreshing to hear considering everything that has gone before.
Whereas “Beast of Burden” saw The Rolling Stones broaden their artistic vision in a post-Muddy Waters world, with Emotional Rescue they merely narrowed it, limiting their options in the process. The energy is there, but the excitement had disappeared. Here they just seem bored and listless, devoid of ideas, retreading the same old ground, which is fine in itself, but at least do it in some mouldy basement in the south of France, rather than some posh studio with expensive catering. The LP has its virtues true, though from here on, The Stones would become nothing more than a parody of its former self, obsessed more with the brand than they were with the blues.