THE ROLLING STONES: EMOTIONAL RESCUE (1980)
1) Dance (Pt. 1); 2) Summer Romance; 3) Send It To Me; 4) Let Me Go; 5) Indian Girl; 6) Where The Boys Go; 7) Down In The Hole; 8) Emotional Rescue; 9) She's So Cold; 10) All About You.
I must confess: I have absolutely no idea how an album like Emotional Rescue could have been put together in the Stones' camp right on the heels of an album like Some Girls. For all their fluctuations, the Rolling Stones rarely leave me baffled and bewildered, but even after all these years, forcing myself to relisten to this total pile of crap (at least, by the average Stones' standard of the time) is as uncomfortable as looking at Mick Jagger with a full-grown beard, no matter how well he tries to hide it on the thermographic picture on the front cover. Goats Head Soup may have been a disappointment, and It's Only Rock'n'Roll may have been an unpleasant exercise in debauchery, and even Some Girls was more comical than rebel-rousing, but Emotional Rescue is the first — and, in fact, the only one of just two — Rolling Stones albums that flat-out sucks. Essentially, it sounds like a parody on the Rolling Stones, written and recorded by a bunch of guys who have no idea how to make a proper parody on the Rolling Stones.
What's really puzzling about this is that the record began life as an attempt to repeat the winning formula of Some Girls. Like its predecessor, it flirts with disco (twice now, first on ʽDanceʼ and then on the title track), country (ʽIndian Girlʼ), slow blues (ʽDown In The Holeʼ), New Wave-influenced pop-rock (ʽShe's So Coldʼ), and punk rock (ʽSummer Romanceʼ, ʽLet Me Goʼ); in fact, much of its material comes from songs that were first tried during the Some Girls sessions and then rejected in favor of better material. That, in itself, is a warning sign — for some reason, the Stones did not bother to prepare a fresh batch of compositions before going to Nassau and then back to Paris to start work on the new album. But it is not the main problem, either.
The main problem is that Emotional Rescue just sounds... dorky. It is one of the few Stones albums where I honestly wish to strangle Mick on every second song — and where, which may be even worse, I barely recognize Keith on every second song. If you listen to early versions of such rockers as ʽSummer Romanceʼ and ʽWhere The Boys Goʼ from the 1978 sessions, they're still mediocre songs, rightfully rejected in favor of much stronger tunes like ʽLiesʼ and ʽRespectableʼ, but at least they clearly sound like classic Stones. The sound on Emotional Rescue, meanwhile, is blatantly wimpy, with Keith in particular — for no reason at all! — taking a liking to the kind of contemporary rhythm guitar playing typical of, say, Ric Ocasek: a thin, nerdy, «clucking» sound that was perfect for The Cars, but is simply ridiculous in the case of the Stones. It's the tone you hear at the beginning of ʽLet Me Goʼ or ʽShe's So Coldʼ, as well — see, it's good for ʽMy Best Friend's Girlʼ, but not the creator of ʽCan't You Hear Me Knockingʼ. In the end, this sound does not even let them preserve the biting sarcastic qualities of the rock'n'roll of Some Girls. It just makes them sound like jokers.
But the situation is exacerbated with the «shit-artistic» inclinations of Mick, who must have written and recorded all his parts in some odd drunken haze, because with his lyrics and vocal deliveries over Keith's skeletal riffs, most of this record is the pop-rock equivalent of taking your pants down in the ladies' bathroom and posting the results on Youtube. No previous Stones record had ever contained that much toilet humor and flat sexual braggadoccio reflecting the mental level of a 14-year old hick. In the place of a rough, offensive, politically incorrect, but smart and meanly aggressive ʽWhen The Whip Comes Downʼ, we now have ʽWhere The Boys Goʼ, officially one of the top three or four worst Stones song ever, a limp variation on ʽLiesʼ whose only goal is to wind itself up to the triumphant barroom sloganeering at the end — "where the boys go, for a little piece of ass! where the boys go, for a little piece of cunt!". («Hey, Mick, guess what? We're now allowed to say ʽcuntʼ on record! Goodbye for good, 1964!» «No kidding? Go for it, quick, before they change their mind or something!»).
ʽSummer Romanceʼ, well fit for a soundtrack to one of those dumb teen sex comedies of the Eighties that only worked as an excuse to see some boobs, is hardly any better — no decent riff, a weak drive, and a laughable imitation of uncontrollable adolescent lust by somebody who used to be a subtle and devious Casanova, but has now willingly reduced himself to the image of a drunk flasher, scaring little girls with his bad breath rather than his midnight rambling. The sex drive extends to other genres as well — ʽSend It To Meʼ, the band's first original experiment with reggae, is an anthem to mail-order brides who could be Rumanian, could be «Bubarian» (? does he mean Bulgarian?), could be The Alien, and, in any case, seem to represent a socially relevant, artistically important topic to cover for the 1980 incarnation of the Rolling Stones. At least if they gave it to somebody like Randy Newman, he could probably find the right tone for this tune: Jagger almost makes it sound like he's serious, and in the process, ruins a bad joke by making it even worse. The only consolation here is that the band members probably understand very well how inescapably idiotic all these tunes are — when was the last time you ever saw them doing any of this stuff in concert?
The disco bits are equally disappointing. With ʽMiss Youʼ, you actually had to remind yourself that you were listening to a disco tune — so peripheral was its bassline to its general atmosphere of longing and yearning. Here, we get ʽDanceʼ, which is not even a song: it is just a dance groove, peppered with boring Jagger ad-libs. At some point, it turns out to be a less memorable variation on the funky ʽTrampled Underfootʼ rhythm, but at no point ever does it turn out to have a riff as memorable as, say, the one on ʽHot Stuffʼ, and at no point does it ever sound like something that could not have been churned out by half a million funk/R&B outfits, black or white, around the globe. Meanwhile, the title track is truly an attempt at crafting a totally superficial, suave, sexy disco-pop song, with Mick embracing Bee Gees-ish falsetto and ad-libbing stuff about being your knight in shining armor on an Arab charger. Clearly, it's all tongue-in-cheek, but it's only clear if you place it in the overall context of the Stones — on its own, it is just a bad disco song, trying to woo you over with yet another falsetto vocalise; but where the "whoo-ooh-OOH-ooh ooh-ooh-ooh" of ʽMiss Youʼ combined sexiness with a pinch of pain and yearning, the "uh-UH uh-uh uh uh-uh-UH" of ʽEmotional Rescueʼ is merely the projection of the rhythm of the lead vocalist's throbbing dick, trying to break free from the knight's shining armor, which is not that easy to do while you're being borne full speed by an Arab charger. Stupid!
In the middle of all this puerile bacchanalia, unexpectedly come two decent songs that sound so totally out of place here, it's like some other band replaced them for a brief while (or, more accurately, it might be the band briefly coming out of paralysis to shoo away their evil grinning twins, usurping the studio). ʽIndian Girlʼ, while still probably at the bottom list of their escapades into country, is a sweet-and-sad rumination on Latin American politics, largely restricted to just one repetitive melody line, but still poignant; and ʽDown In The Holeʼ is a slow, dark, harmonica-driven, socially-critical blues with Mick in surprisingly fine and fiery form — making it almost impossible to believe that this is the very man who has just spent twenty minutes entertaining you with toilet humor of the lowest variety. He still overbarks it, but I'd rather take this overbarking, thank you very much, in the context of a bitterly wailing harp and Ronnie's and Keith's equally bitter, soulful interplay, than in the context of a never-going-anywhere ʽSummer Romanceʼ.
On a sidenote, I admit being somewhat partial to ʽShe's So Coldʼ. Although the song dutifully fits the dumb sexist pattern of the rest of the album (this time, we find Mick complaining about the frigidity of his partner — what's next in line, ʽShe's So Not Into Analʼ?), it features a lighter, poppier tone than ʽSummer Romanceʼ or ʽWhere The Boys Goʼ, and with a slightly slower tempo, lengthier instrumental passages, and a generally more quiet Mick, gives Keith and Ronnie a good chance to practice their weaving technique — I might like it even more if it were completely instrumental, but even as it stands, there's a bit of charm and genuine humor about it that I find completely lacking in the other raunchy songs on the album.
On a mixed note, though, the album closer ʽAll About Youʼ, handed over to Keith, returns us to the world of mushy Keith ballads that was born with ʽComing Down Againʼ seven years before and is usually appreciated by those fans to whom the very idea of «soulful Keith», singing completely out of tune but completely with his heart on his sleeve, is enough to forgive everything else. Personally, I think Keith's ballads work fine when they are fully shaped and hookful, like ʽSlipping Awayʼ, but ʽAll About Youʼ is basically just a groove and a long, long string of tunelessly delivered lyrics that may or may not be about his breakup with Anita Pallenberg (or, if you think deeper, may or may not be about his impending breakup with Mick Jagger). Nice, but Keith could probably cut a dozen pieces like that in a single session.
Bottomline is: I have managed to find plenty of redeeming factors for post-'72 Stones albums over the years, going from one-time total rejection to provisional or even unconditional endorsements of much of the stuff that I once thought of as «below the belt territory». It is, after all, hypocritical to confess to liking AC/DC and at the same time condemning ʽIt's Only Rock'n'Rollʼ or ʽCrazy Mamaʼ for not being «deep enough» or something. However, even now it remains very hard to find anything redeeming about Emotional Rescue — a total misstep that could, perhaps, only have originated in the turbulent, value-redefining atmosphere of transition from the 1970s to the 1980s (and it is no coincidence that 1980, after a brief period of convalescence, also brought a veritable turn for the worse in Jagger's scenic image, but you will have to wait for my review of Still Life to hear more on that). Again, it is hardly surprising that, with the exception of ʽShe's So Coldʼ, perhaps, not a single song from this record so far has managed to earn itself even a temporary spot in the band's post-1982 live repertoire (barring a few occasional performances of ʽDanceʼ and the title track, mostly out of boredom) — kudos to Mick and Keith for implicitly recognizing, on their own, how stupid and wasted most of this stuff has sounded from the beginning. Alas, a major thumbs down here, folks.