[The second in an occasional series.]
From 1968 to 1972, the Rolling Stones assembled perhaps the most remarkable run of albums in popular music history: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. Just one of these spectacular records would have been the climax of any band’s career, but Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and company reeled off a four consecutive masterpieces over the same number of years. Alongside singles like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women,” these records showcase the Stones at their creative peak – and set an unrealistic standard for all the band’s subsequent work.
Only from such heights could solid outings like 1973’s Goat’s Head Soup and 1974’s It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll come to be seen as disappointments. But the Stones mounted a three-album renaissance at the end of the 1970s, starting with Some Girls in 1978 and concluding with Tattoo You, the band’s last truly impressive studio album, in 1981. Released 1980, Emotional Rescue often winds up a neglected chapter in the Stones’ last artistic gasp – but it’s a record that deserves more than a footnote in the history of the legendary rock band.
Not that the Rolling Stones have failed to make compelling music since. They’ve produced a number of catchy singles, from “Love Is Strong” and “You Got Me Rocking” in the mid-1990s to “Doom and Gloom” in the early 2010s. Blue and Lonesome, the Stones’ worthy 2016 tribute to the blues genre that first inspired its members all those decades ago, likewise stands out as a fitting capstone to the band’s enormous body of work. For the most part, though, since the early 1980s the Rolling Stones have amounted to the world’s greatest touring band more than a living musical force. In retrospect, Emotional Rescue can be viewed as the second-to-last major creative statement of a career that’s now spanned almost six decades .
The album itself picks up right where Some Girls left off with “Dance (Pt. 1),” a song with an underlying groove and beat reminds listeners of the preceding record’s “Miss You.” Jagger exhorts the band to “get up, get out, get into something new.” But the Stones clearly have no interest in or intention of doing so on Emotional Rescue; they’ll just continue doing what they do best. Richards and Ronnie Wood – who joined the band as its second guitarist in the mid-1970s – provide excellent guitar work, weaving together solos, riffs, and chords effortlessly.
It’s also clear from the start that Emotional Rescue is a summer album, intended for listening during the long, hot, and sticky days from early June to late August. Richards fires off a blistering solo on the aptly-titled “Summer Romance,” while Jagger’s vocals come to the fore on the plaintive, Caribbean-inflected blues number “Send It To Me.” “Let Me Go” is a pleasant enough break-up song, with Jagger listing the ways in which he’s tried to ditch a lover, including: “The bell has rung and I call time.” On “Indian Girl,” fine acoustic work from Richards and Wood backs up Jagger’s languid lament that “life just goes on and on gettin’ harder and harder.”
From the very moment they burst into public consciousness, the Stones have been driven by a decadent cocktail of ennui and sexual desire. That unstable compound seeps back to the surface on “Where The Boys Go,” where a bored Jagger tells potential female companions that he’s exhausted potential alternatives – playing football, watching television, and drinking to excess – and now embarks on a quest for “a little piece of ass” to divert himself. After all,“where the girls are now” is “where the boys all go.”
The record deftly segues into the desperation blues of “Down In The Hole,” where Jagger aggressively queries whether money actually buys anything of real value. It can’t keep a person from falling “down in the gutter,” reduced to bumming for cigarettes and nylons. Down in the hole, there’s “no escape from trouble” and “nowhere to go.” Richards and Wood knit blues licks together while Sugar Blue plays a mournful harmonica, lending the song an added touch of melancholy.
With a crash of cymbals and a steady bass groove, Emotional Rescue shifts tone with the upbeat title track. Jagger’s falsetto furnishes the song with its distinctive quality as he insists he’ll ride to the rescue of a lover attached to an unworthy partner as her “knight in shining armor” – and on a “fine Arab charger” no less. Sultry saxophone work by long-time Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys rounds out the song.
The Stones return to their central animating concerns with “She’s So Cold,” a tale of unrequited lust expressed with volatile imagery. Jagger fully identifies with his own desire, describing himself as “the burning bush, the burning fire” before outright declaring “I’m the bleeding volcano.” By contrast, the object of his attraction remains “so cold, cold, cold like an ice cream cone” and a tombstone – so much so that Jagger comes to believe she was “was born in an Arctic zone.” A saxophone siren blares midway through the song, layering urgency over the deceptively relaxed guitars of Richards and Wood. Emotional Rescue then closes with “All About You,” a slow dirge to a failed relationship featuring Richards on vocals.
Why give Emotional Rescue a listen? As a record, it’s a straightforward document of the quintessential rock band refusing to enter the twilight of its career with anything less than a roar. Sandwiched in the Stones’ late 1970s renaissance between Some Girls and Tattoo You, Emotional Rescue deserves a wider hearing from the band’s generations of devoted followers and more general rock aficionados alike.