Monday, 3 November 2014

The Rolling Stones "Emotional Rescue" (1980)



The Rolling Stones "Emotional Rescue" (1980)

Dance/Summer Romance/Send It To Me/Let Me Go/Indian Girl//Where The Boys Go/Down In The Hole/Emotional Rescue/She's So Cold/All About You


The Stones had been recharged in 1978 like never before, responding to punk and the new arrival of Ronnie Wood had given the band an inner charge that moved the band away from the more prog-rockish 'Mick Taylor' records and back to music that was simpler and harder-edged. Alas what worked so well in 1978 - when simple was in - sounded unfinished and rough in 1980, when 'new wave' was in, a much more melodic and polished response to punk. Other critics are cruller and see the Stones as an anachronism ever since the 1970s began, with a more common consensus relegating the band to the 'second wave' of bands circa 1973, but we say it's here that the band made that unfortunate leap short of what other bands were doing and became followers of trends rather than pioneers for the first time. The general consensus is that 'Emotional Rescue' is a horrid LP, one that did the band irreparable damage for the rest of their career. As ever the truth is a bit more complex than that: 'Down In The Hole' is a better song than even the ones on 'Some Girls, uniting the band's beginnings with the sounds of the then-present day, while the poppier elements of the album work rather well in the uptempo 'She's So Cold' and lower-key title track (both middling hit singles). In truth though there's only thing you need to know about this album if you're thinking of buying it: by and large the Rolling Stones have forgotten how to rock.

It's hard to put your finger on why this album is the first to sound like a caricature of the band's usual sound, rather than a 'bad idea' (as per the funk of 'Black and Blue' or the country trappings of 'Let It Bleed'). While the Stones aren't exactly going out of their way to make every track a beauty, it's not just that the album is a little slapdash either: arguably this is a band that's tighter and working as more of a 'unit' than the bleary-eyed sessions for the celebrated 'Exile On Main Street'. The problems seem to be this: as a general rule either Mick or Keith tends to be having a 'good album' once the 1960s turn into the 1970s - occasionally they'll even have a good run of form together as per 1971's 'Sticky Fingers'. But this album finds both men slightly below-par: Keith is still feeling the after-effects of his late nights and shallow mornings as a drug addict (finally agreeing to clean himself up in 1977, after a legendary court-case where a lengthy prison stretch which - thanks to the intervention of a Canadian fan Keith had be-friended on the road - got reduced to a few Stones concerts for the blind). Mick is still feeling the after-effects of covering up for Keith and doing all the work. The pair seem distracted through this album somehow, as if for the first time the Stones aren't their numero uno reason for existing: Mick is becoming ever more engrossed with his life as a jet-setting celebrity while Keith is more focussed on simply remaining upright. Of this latest batch of songs only 'Down In The Hole' sounds like it has any link to real life: the other nine, even when well played, have the feeling of 'escapist' songs, written to give the Stones crowd what they want to hear, instead of what they ought to hear. For the first time in their career Mick and Keith had traded in on their good name and not given that little extra something that made most of their previous albums so special.

The rest of the band aren't faring much better though. You can usually rely on the rhythm section to swing even when the 'Glimmer Twins' are having an off day, but this is notable as the Stones album that 'swings' the least. Bill Wyman is becoming increasingly fed up with trekking halfway around the world with a band that laughs at his contributions even though his solo career is threatening to outsell their own (how much bad blood would it have settled to have had one token Wyman song per Stones album? Surely even the legendary greedy Jagger-Richards songwriting team could have let one song go?) Charlie Watts, meanwhile, is at the start of a difficult decade, one which will see the most stable and reliable Stone fall victim to a ravenous drug habit that for a time made Keith look like a newbie and while you can't put a finger on his playing particularly he, too, seems to be going through the motions rather than giving the extra 10% that would normally life the album. Ronnie Wood, meanwhile, is struggling to find a new sound within the band once the honeymoon period of 'Some Girls' has worn off. The 'art of weaving' guitar attack he and Keith had used across their last record had seemed thrilling because both men were on good form and it made such a different sound to the years of the Stones using either Keith as rhythm and Brian Jones on anything and everything around him or Keith trying to 'earth' the sky-soaring lines of Mick Taylor. Now that Keith is mentally asleep, Ronnie sounds unsure quite what to do: the repeats of the double-edged attacks aren't working because he's playing 'down' to Keith's level and for now he's too afraid to dominate the sound of a founding member Stone and do perhaps what he should have done - wail away like Mick Taylor did, albeit with an earthier bluesier feel. Ronnie is a great guitarist but he's never really sounded like he belongs with the Stones - with the exception of 'Some Girls'. 'Emotional Rescue' may well be his lowest ebb, with less space than normal to shine. All that said there are three moments when the whole band suddenly slide into action: 'Down In The Hole' is yet again the exception to the album's rule, with the whole band revelling in a return to their bluesier past, but both 'Where The Boys Go' and 'She's So Cold' rescue slight material by virtue of cracking band performances that crackle with all the energy and excitement of 'Some Girls'.

As a result there's a definite feeling of lethargy across this album, which is one of the Stones' sleepiest - high on ballads and 'white reggae' songs that seem to suck all the life blood out of the higher-charged tracks alongside them. There's notably little variation across this album - which may have been a conscious decision to copy the similar-sounding 'Some Girls', but doesn't work as well now that the tracks tend to have slower tempos and less energy. The general pattern on these AAA albums tends to be that if a record is full of 'middle eights' then it's a record that's gone that extra mile in invention and is going the extra mile in making songs as thorough as they can be. 'Emotional Rescue' is notably low on middle eights - as far as I can tell there's only one, in the title track, and that's just the chorus sung in a slightly different key with new words. My take on 'Emotional Rescue' the album is that it is as almost as bad (or at least uninspired as people say it is) - but that there's a good album's worth of building blocks here that really could have been something. With a few tweaks, some extra middle eights and more space given over to either rehearsing some 'weaving' solos or giving space to Ronnie (and perhaps the loss of the album's weaker tracks like 'Dance' and 'Send It To Me') then 'Emotional Rescue' could have been the equal of the band's 1980s work, if not their 1970s.

The album would, for instance, have sounded much better with 'Claudine' amongst the track listing. A fun little rockabilly song that yet again returns the Stones to their earliest beginnings as a simple little blues-rock outfit, the song was dropped from the track listening at the eleventh hour after the Stones' legal team got a bit hot under the collar about the song (which was loosely based on the trial of Claudine Longet, who received only a 30 day sentence after being convicted of killing her boyfriend skier 'Spider' Sabich - think the Oscar Pistorious case if it happened the other way around). That's a shame because this song, while not 100 carat Stones or anything, would have given the album a frisson of life and of danger (banned songs would have given the Stones a tiny piece of their credibility back). What's most interesting about the song is that, for the first time, the female is fully in charge - and not only that, she's a full blown cold-blooded killer! Not since 'Spider and the Fly' have the Stones tackled this subject matter and this time they go much much further than a bored 'Mrs Robinson' housewife and her young lothario. 'Claudine'- finally released in 2011 as an extra on the 'Some Girls' deluxe edition CD - ought to be the centre-point to an album written around the true and tested method of Stones albums: a land where the man is the victim and women the prey. We haven't heard this subject matter quite this loud since 'Aftermath' in 1966, however, and while it would be horribly over-stepping the mark to call this the Stones' 'feminist' statement it is probably fair to say that this is a less anti-female album than normal. 'Summer Romance' is a sweet song about a relationship with a major age difference - what probably started out as a song laughing at Bill Wyman's penchant for young girls ends up being one of the 'nicest' Stones lyrics of them all, with the schoolgirl as keen on the older man as he is on her. 'Emotional Rescue' itself is another sweet love song about the healing power of love - again you have to go back to 'Wild Horses' when there was a love song this gentle without a sting in the tail. Of course 'Let Me Go' takes an opposite tack ('this relationship is over!), 'She's So Cold' has a lyric you can probably guess from the title and 'Where The Boys Go' is about a male drinking session down the pub (although the girls get their own verse tacked on the end about their night out - that would never have happened before!) But still two songs (three on the original planned version of the album!) seems like a revolution: are the Stones mellowing in old age at last?

One thing they're not doing is aging well. There are many gimmicky album covers in the Rolling Stones catalogue - most of them coming since 1968 in an attempt to cover up the band's growing wrinkles (we had, among others, Mick with a tight round his head for 'Goat's Head Soup', a glossy oil painting for 'It's Only Rock and Roll' and a collage of scribbled drawings cut from American magazines for 'Some Girls'). This however is the most gimmicky of them all: the band are on the cover, but they've been shot with a 'thermal imaging camera' that presumably was meant to make the band look 'white hot' and 'with it' (thermal imaging was a relatively new technology and hadn't been on an album cover before - with good reason having seen the finished product it has to be said). Instead the band just look odd and empty-headed (poor Bill, recognisable bottom-left thanks to his distinctive eye-brows, looks as if there' nothing going on in his head at all). Like the album it's a good idea that had it been done properly could have worked (had the band been standing alongside each other, for instance, instead of featured in collages of individual photos - where, by the way, is Ronnie?) But it's all a bit slapdash and rushed.

The irony is that follow-up album 'Tattoo You', both cover and contents, will be much more rushed: mainly an album of leftovers cobbled together quickly to give the band something to promote on a tour and with a hurriedly made album cover of a stencilled tattoo drawn over Mick's face, it will end up looking and sounding as if much more time was spent on it. Ask the average Stones fan who didn't know which of the two albums was made up of 'outtakes' and they'd almost invariably point to this one. Shockingly three of the better songs from that LP ('Black Limousine' 'Neighbours' 'No Use In Crying' , plus lowlight 'Little T& A') came from this album's sessions. You wonder what on earth the band were thinking: all of them (well three of them) sound both more 'Stonesy' and more groundbreaking than anything on this record. It's almost as if the Stones couldn't agree on anything anymore - and went for the easiest way out wherever they could, with the band's most generic and faceless bunch of songs performed by a band too afraid to give ideas in case of stepping on anyone's toes.

There's one song, though, that might explain everything. Songs by Mick about Keith and Keith about Mick will become legion across the 1980s but they start here at the very beginning of the decade. Keith's vocal showcase on this album is 'All About You', a song about a girlfriend he's fed up with and is vowing to leave if things don't change - painfully added at the very end of the album as if pointing towards what will happen when the album is over. The lyric could of course be about his missus (he'd just split with Anita Pallenberg, once Brian Jones' girlfriend - an unfortunate event involving a teenager and a game of Russian roulette at Keith's house when he was away on tour spelled the end for a troubled relationship). That's how many critics have taken the song - and yes, most likely there's  something about Anita in the lyrics too. Most of the lines don't seem to make sense in this context, though, and seem to be about another of Keith's relationships that was busy falling apart in 1980: his relationship with Mick. 'If you call this a life, why must I spend mine with you?' is the song's jagged opening lines (you can divorce a wife quite quickly - especially if you're Keith Richards - but divorcing a bandmate takes time and involves a lot of other people), while the line 'I'm sick and tired of hanging round dogs like you' seems aimed at bringing Mick down to Earth as much as possible (Keith was particularly riled by his social climbing and love of hanging round millionaire guests - this is non-too subtle reminder of Mick's beginnings). Keith seems to resent being left alone to finish the album ('I'm missing you' he says, quoting from 'Miss You', one of Mick's most recent songs - 'But missing me just isn't you') and barks about his lifestyle as a slightly more goody-two-shoes frontman: 'You're the last to get the blame and the first to get paid'. This seems a bit harsh after Jagger spent so many years holding the Stones together while Keith grew increasingly fragile and out-of-it, but Mick's decision to step away at the exact moment his partner needed him to rely on seems to have been the start of bad blood that will erupt into what the band called 'World War Three' in about five years' time. To be honest it's amazing the Stones didn't break up here and now - other bands had split after less - but as the band grew ever closer to twenty years together (an achievement only matched by The Hollies - who'd lost their record contract this same year - The Who - also preparing to split - and The Kinks).

That would certainly explain why 'Emotional Rescue' is such a 'cold' album, with lyrics about not a lot in particular and performances that sound less intense than normal. Together with the band's problems (Keith isn't up to full speed yet, Charlie is in decline) that helps explain why the Stones sound so distracted and far more scattered than they had been making 'Some Girls'. 'Emotional Rescue' is certainly not a classic album from their canon and pales sharply against the two relative classics either side of it. But somebody must have liked this record or at least liked the fact that the Stones were still going and slightly more commercial than they'd been for a while (it outsold both records and was the first Stones #1 since 'Goat's Head Soup' in the UK). What's more, far from the hopeless, pointless, awful record most fans and critics paint it as, 'Emotional Rescue' is more uninspired than terrible: I actually prefer it to 'Black and Blue' (which tries hard, but usually in the wrong directions) and there's no absolute horror on it like there is on 'Some Girls' ('Faraway Eyes'). What's more the four decent songs on the album - 'She's So Cold' 'Where The Boys Go' 'Emotional Rescue' and especially 'Down In The Hole' - point at how good a Stones album recorded in 1980 could have sounded, continuing the fire and drive heard on 'Some Girls' but with a return to the blues roots that had always served the band best and a nice feel for light and fluffy falsetto (long regarded as the weakest Stones hit single, I actually consider 'Emotional Rescue' an improvement on 'Miss You'). In truth four good songs per ten isn't that bad odds - we've certainly had worse on this site, including some Stones albums that scored worse ('It's Only Rock and Roll'). The problem with this album is that even these songs sound less than they ought to because they're sandwiched next to six songs by a band who doesn't seem to care anymore having some bad ideas, with the album's genuinely interesting moments better heard individually than as part of a record that drags everything down to the lowest common denominator. Still, if this is the one of the lowest points so far it's still rather good for a band entering their 18th year and making their 15th album together. While the Rolling Stones of 1980 were exactly the kind of past-it has-beens the Band's 1964 vintage would have laughed at and refused to buy, it's better that they existed than not and even if their records get patchier from here-on in the highs somehow make up for the lows. This is Alan's Album Archives, having come to the 'emotional rescue' of an album that needed it, over and out.

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'Keith, what are you doing?!' Even when sung in jest, as part of a jokey comedy introduction, it speaks volumes that the most interesting feature of opening number 'Dance' is this what-do-they-really-mean? bust-up between the Glimmer Twins. Tensions came to the fore over the making of this number, which Keith imagined as a toe-tapping samba with minimal lyrics - and which Mick (perhaps proving a point about how integral words are to Stones songs) decided to give one of his wordier and more complicated lyrics. In truth both halves of the song rather miss the point. You'll know the drill by now if you're a semi-regular reader: it may be jealousy because the closest I can get to dancing is falling over, but when a song is designed to dance to rather than move the heart or inform the brain it's a wasted opportunity. Mick's words aren't much better: 'Get up, get out, get into something new!' he pleads, as much to the band as anyone else, but it's a plea that falls on deaf ears thanks to the slow grooving strut that keep relentlessly moving across this song and won't shut up. There's quite interesting chorus, about how a poor man envies a rich man his money and a rich man a poor man's simple way of living (a very Mick Jagger lyric, caught halfway between attacking and defending his rich friends), but sadly this is an extra in a song all about the groove and quickly flies past. Wretched - the band don't even play that well on the simple groove they find - not compared to old glory days anyway, with Charlie's drumming all but drowned out by a sea of percussion instruments (played by Santana's Michael Shrieve) and sound effects (sadly not for the last time), Bobby Keyes' horn parts merely average and Keith's guitar part a mess. A sequel ('If I Was A Dancer, Dance Part Two') - while no classic - is much more interesting, with some proper lyrics this time and a less ambitious production; sadly it was relegated to a 'B-side' and only became widely available with the release of the band's 'Rarities' set in 2005.

'Summer Romance' was treated at the time as a failed attempt to re-capture the fire of 'Some Girls'. Actually it's a failed attempt to capture it the first time round, with this 1978 outtake featuring everything that made the earlier album work so well, but with less ideas and invention. Charlie's dead centre of the mix, where he should always be, the guitars weave in and out and Mick grooves away over the top, becoming increasingly irate. But the Stones aren't the tight band they were even a couple of years earlier and this performance isn't anywhere near as fluid as it ought to be. This is still an improvement on 'Dance' though: Mick has written a song to go with the song's groove and it's a good one I wish the production would allow us to hear more - the sensitive (by Stones standards) tale of a burgeoning romance between a schoolgirl and her much older friend. The narrator knows its 'over', a 'summer romance' that finds her back at school and him down the pub, caught between genuine affection ('I can't help myself if I'm older than you!') and practicalities ('I can't be your mum and I don't want to be your dad'). You wonder what Bill Wyman would have made of a song rather uncomfortably close to the truth, although this song is kinder and gentler than the similar 'Stray Cat Blues' from a decade before (perhaps because the Stones now had children of their own?!) The strange thing is Jagger sings in such a Jagged way and with such random double-tracking that very few of his lyrics actually register and the upbeat mood of the backing track has fooled many a fan over the years into thinking this is a 'happy' song about a romance taking place - not a sad one about it ending.

'Send It To Me' makes it a third weak song in a row. The Stones were such big fans of reggae you'd have thought they'd either have learnt how to record it properly or wanted to have stopped trying by now, but no: this is another bland and decidedly 'white' response to a music the band clearly don't understand. Thankfully unlike the songs on 'Black and Blue' the band are sensible enough to admit defeat and add a few Stonesy elements on top, such as a delightful 'Hawaiian' Keith Richards guitar solo and a nice Jagger harmony part. The lyrics are slight but fun, the narrator a long way from home and asking for all sorts of things through the post: his girl's loving, her money, even an aeroplane. Personally she sounds better off without him and his increasingly OTT suggestions. Mick has fun though and is a born frontman for silly songs like this one. The middle eight, with a long list of countries a la the title track of 'Some Girls' (and despite all the protests that song caused) may well be the single most Stones-like moment of the album ('She could be Romanian, Barbarian, Algerian Hungarian, Australian, could even be an alien!...'), hilarious and hideous in equal measure.

Worryingly, with  'Let Me Go' we reach four weak songs and patience is running thin. Keith's guitar seems louder on this one and the Stones fall into line behind as usual, but this song lacks the classic riffs of olden days and some more truly awful double-tracking (the band presumably think being this loose in the vocal department gives the songs a feeling of movement and energy, but they're wrong - it makes them sound careless and sloppy). It seems tempting in context to this song about being trapped as a comment by either Mick or Keith (or both) about the band, in which case the fact that this track sounds like every average Stones song since at least the start of the 1970s highly apt. How else can we view lines like 'You're gonna get it straight from the shoulder - can't you see the party's over?' Then again, Keith might be saying goodbye to Anita here (a big figure in Stones folklore - with her departure from Keith's life the band's last links with her first boyfriend Brian Jones went to) in which case  no wonder the pair split up so fast: By the end Mick is reduced to screaming at her: 'Can't you get it through your thick head? This affair is as dead as a doornail, baby!' Alas what might have been an interesting discourse on long goodbyes and farewells is reduced to another average Stones rocker that might have sounded better had it actually rocked.

Most fans hate 'Indian Girl' even more - another cod-Jamaican soft shuffle, with lots of Micks singing at once (and none of them that well). While far from the best thing on the record, at least this song's heart is in the right place, even if its genre's aren't. Mick's always had a talent for making the political and radical commercial and 'Indian Girl' is one of his better stabs at combining protest with poetry. The 'Indian Girl' really is a girl - not just a term for a full-grown woman - and has been orphaned by 'men who shoot down planes with an M16 and laughter'. She's the innocent face of a generation wiped out in the name of another war the West can never hope to understand. Actually Mick's being pretty brave here, spelling out the appalling situation of so many children in India a full five years before 'Live Aid; brought the even to the world's attention. Whilst Mick overdoes the lyric more than a bit ('The last piece of meat was taken by the soldiers who raped her'), his empathy shines through with a child who finds out far too young that life is a matter of survival, 'just going on and on, getting harder and harder'. If only the other Stones had been as interested in this song as they should have been (even Bill and Charlie seem lacklustre, suggesting this was a rehearsal take) 'Indian Girl' could have been a Stones winner, an early version of 'Undercover Of The Night'. Alas it sounds like the Stones attempting another hopeless reggae track while Mick burbles something half-interesting just out of reach. Another interminable four minutes of the record, although at least this time there's a good song on the lyric sheet if not on the record. That's Phil Spector's old right hand man and sometime Neil Young producer-arranger Jack Nitzsche helping out the band with the horn part.
If you're brave enough to try side two after five songs that really didn't work, then your reward is a song that finally kicks ass. Well, a tiny bit. 'Where The Boys Go' will be a disappointment to anyone who gave up listening to the Stones circa 1970, but at long last have a decent riff they can get their teeth into and all five plus returning pianist Ian Stewart attack the song with gusto without any overdubs or extras till right at the end. Mick's written a better lyric down the years than this 'going down the pub' song but his vocal is excellent, his best in years as he starts off hard and ends up raucously screaming by the end. His hapless narrator is clearly in a lustful mood after an empty week ('All day Monday all day Tuesday I played football - there's nothing on the telly!') He's actually one of Jagger's more likeable characters, admitting to 'feeling shy but acting so bold' and promising not unending days of romance but a quick fumble 'round the back'. The chorus wobbles around on two un-sturdy legs, hopping from one to the other like the drunk that he is, while Keith and Ronnie's last great guitar duel to date (seriously - they never trey this sort of thing again, which is a tragedy) rips through the Stones' usual courting gestures for a wild and earthy ride that makes for one of the most satisfying performances from the second half of their career. The brief section 'never keep a secret from me', while not fitting in with the rest of the story, is easily the most exhilarating moment of this rather bland record, especially when Keith turns in a great Chuck Berry-style solo straight after.  Jagger's revelrie, joined by a full studio of blokes, is then interrupted by a chorus of girls who proceed to take over the song and try to talk about their night out - bet you didn't see that coming in this overtly male song (Bianca Jagger is clearly having an effect!) First tried during the 'Some Girls' sessions, it would be fascinating to hear that first version: if it was played in the same even lower-fi back-to-basics as most of that album it must be a gem (then again, it could be awful: 'Summer Romance' came from that album too). While far from the deepest or best thing Jagger ever wrote, 'Boys' is a fun bit of mischief making and owes more to the band's past than most of this album's wretched attempts at remembering how the band used to do things.

'Down In The Hole' is better still, a surprise return to out-and-out blues (last heard on 'Silver Train' on 'Goat's Head Soup' some seven years earlier). With a backing track that's slow and sultry, packed full of harmonica (by special guest Sugar Blue, who played a similar role on 'Miss You') and stinging guitar licks, it's almost as if the ghost of Brian Jones had returned to the band in their hour of need to provide them with a direction. Mick's lyrics, while generic, capture a certain misery and helplessness that's usual for his more strutting characters and seems to be at least partly based in truth. It's another rich man's blues but one more interesting than most, Jagger becrying not the pressure or the responsibility but saying that money doesn't solve problems ('Will your money buy you forgiveness? Keep you from sickness or keep you from cold?')  Jagger imagines a cold and bleak future, 'bumming for cigarettes' and 'looking for cover and finding nowhere to go'. There's an intriguing backdrop that hints at  a war setting - the nationality of the narrator is never revealed but there are several references to rich Americans (naturally, sung by Jagger with a sudden reversion to his mid-Atlantic accident on '...in the American zone!')  and the hint that there's 'nowhere left' after an American nightclub. Could this be Jagger, alone after a fight with his old friend, wandering around the streets of American and imagining a future where the Stones are no more and - stranded from home - he becomes effectively homeless? Such a scenario seems unlikely for a man with as many song royalties as Jagger, but your imagination plays funny tricks on you sometimes in hours of need. Certainly there's a commitment level about this one that suggests it means something to the whole band, who play out of their skins here (especially Bill's down-trodden bass) underneath Jagger's electrifying lead, all the more impressive given that this song took just two takes to perfect. Ronnie Wood also reputedly had a lot to do with this song and deserved a co-credit for it. The most interesting Stones song since at least 1978, 'Down In The Hole' deserves to be much better remembered and is exactly the worst of thing most of us had been longing the band to do for years -  embracing their roots as a blues band whilst adding just enough contemporary touches too.

The title track of 'Emotional Rescue' isn't up to the standards of either previous song, but is a lot better than most scorning critics and disappointed fans give it credit for. This is Jagger's baby once again, seemingly deliberately written to capture as much of the 'magic' of 'Miss You' as possible - and for me at least succeeds (the riff is catchier and less irritating and the lyrics a little more though through). Once again Mick sings in falsetto for most of the song, dropping his vocal only for a yearning middle eight that's really effective ('Yeah, I was dreaming last night...') - it sounded slightly daft at the time (and really daft nowadays) but was his logical response to keeping an eye on the charts and trying to keep the Stones within touching distance of it (The Bee Gees were in - thankfully Jagger's falsetto is less wearing across a full song than Barry Gibb's). I'd love to know what inspired this song about Mick pining for a girl he can't have, a 'poor girl in a rich man's house'. Was he thinking of Anita, his one-time on-screen girlfriend and back in 1968 as likely to abscond with Jagger as Richards after being ';rescued' by the pair from the beatings Brian Jones was allegedly giving her. Like a lot of Jagger's lyrics, this song kind of peters out after some good ideas in the first two verses but enough of them resonate for this song to work as a sort of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' 1980s style, Jagger promising unlimited guidance and support. Unable to resist a twist, however, he drops his vocal to a leery snarl by the end of the song, growling 'you'll be mine all mine!' and singing the line 'I'll be your knight riding on a..charrrrgerrrr' with such venom that our advice to his intended is to run away, fast. The rest of the band get less to do and sound less comfortable on Jagger's unusually modern backing track but still cope well, turning this song into a kind of disco-hybrid blues, with Bill once again the most on the money of the band. Keith, interestingly, barely features (that sounds like Ronnie's rhythm playing to me) suggesting he didn't rate this song very highly. Perhaps he should have done: once again 'Emotional Rescue' isn't the greatest thing the band ever did, but it's better than reputation suggests, with the sudden key changes throughout the song particularly exquisite.

With memories of the awful side one now banished, side two continues with typically Stonesy rocker 'She's So Cold'. Once again there's less depth to this song than an icicle, but that doesn't stop the Stones sounding at their best on a song made for their playful attack. Jagger finally makes one of his experiments in double-tracking work (one's having hysterics, one nicely 'cold' and aloof) and Keith and Ronnie have fun 'weaving', less intensely than before but with another clever riff. As for the lyrics: Jagger's a 'burning fire, a heated volcano' but nothing he does can thaw the heart of his intended. He's tried 'defining her', tried 're-writing her' but all he gets is rejection after rejection. He finally resorts to an old trick, warning her that while 'a beauty indeed', looks don't last and 'nobody will know when you're old', cackling and taunting her like some demented demon. Jagger's vocal is once again superb, wringing far more passion from the song than is probably there and building up to several peaks of righteous indignation over the course of the piece. The band enjoyed this song and riff so much they'll recycle it unabashedly for 'She Was Hot' from 'Undercover', to rather meagre effect.

Hopes are high for a big finale, but no - the band decided to coast to a finish and return to the not-quite-there vibe of the album's first half. 'All About You' is the first of many slow Keith Richards ballads that will end Stones albums to come and far from the best. We've already looked at this song's most interesting feature: it's lyrics. While ostensibly about Anita, there's surely a little of Mick in the lyric too, concerned with betrayal and lies and using every put-down under the sun, with only a closing 'So how come I'm still in love with you?' offering anything you might not be expecting. Certainly the song is similar to Keith's other rant 'Had It With You' (from 1986's 'Dirty Work'), a song we know for certain was about Mick despite Jagger tackling the lead on that song. The second most interesting feature of this song is the lyrics: against all odd Mick and Ronnie turn in a beautiful harmony part that help wrap Keith's rambling lead in the cotton wool he yearns for across the song. If only Richards had bothered to write a melody for this song - instead of busking it in slow bluesy mood - and if only the band had turned in a better performance (with Bobby Keyes' part again way off his usual standards of subtlety and power) then this song might have been another strong track to end the album on. Instead it just sounds like a band who have forgotten how to play and are getting by with as little effort as possible.


Overall, then, 'Emotional Rescue' is an album of two halves. If only the weakest material here (you know the ones - tracks one to four, possibly five and the last one) had been dropped in favour of some of the other long list of songs recorded at these sessions ('Claudine' 'Black Limousine' 'No Use In Crying', perhaps not 'Little T&A') then 'Emotional Rescue' might have been better received. Instead the woeful first side - a candidate for the weakest 20 minutes the band ever made - seems to have put people off from properly getting to know this record. The downside of all this is that 'Rescue' is not a record for the faint-hearted Stones fan. Much of it fails and fails miserably, with 'Dance' a candidate as the band's nadir, with the band sounding at best uninspired and at worst awful - a band at breaking point who just can't work together anymore. However if you persevere there are moments of magic - and moments all the more special for coming along just at the point where you've given up hope. If in truth this album finds the Stones 'in the hole' of their own making - repeating themselves on songs that are becoming increasingly less interesting and flailing around for genres that are less and less suitable - that doesn't mean the whole album is a write-off. The addition of four strong songs to the Stones canon is perhaps more than most fans would have been expecting in 1980 anyway and this album might perhaps have fared better had it come later in the band's run, instead of the inspired and fiery 'Some Girls' (the difference between these two records when played back to back is palpable). Can we make the claim that 'Emotional Rescue' is a lost classic? Heck we can't even make the claim that 6/10ths of the album isn't hopeless. But this misunderstood and maligned record has its moments - and very wonderful moments they are too. They're just so hidden away that even the thermal imaging camera used on the cover won't help you to find them. 

Other Rolling Stones reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:




'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-rolling-stones-its-only-rock-and.html

'Some Girls' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-30-rolling.html

'Undercover' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/rolling-stones-undercover-1983-album.html

'Steel Wheels' (1989)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-113-rolling.html

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