Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008

Emotionally Rescued

By Evan Rytlewski
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I was more than a little shocked when I found a copy of Emotional Rescue in my turntable last night, since, as best I can recall, I haven’t listened to that record in years. How did it get there? Did I get drunk one night and cue it up? Unlikely. Do I have amnesia? I hope not. Has the record been sitting on the turntable for years untouched and forgotten, while I’ve meanwhile placed countless other records on top of it and played them without realizing there was a second LP lying underneath? What does it say about my attention span that this may actually be the most feasible explanation?

However it got there, I was glad for the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the album. Picking a favorite Rolling Stones record is like selecting a favorite flavor of ice cream—they’re all pretty good, at least the ones from before 1981, so “favorites” are bound to change from day to day. But Emotional Rescue may truly be my favorite of my favorites, topping even Some Girls.

In trying to replicate the pop sounds of the time for 1978’s Some Girls, the Stones came out with a record that was too clean, too flawless. But Emotional Rescue, a hurried sequel to that masterpiece, puts less emphasis on song craft and more on delivery. The dance songs are dancier, the pseudo-punk songs are genuinely a little punky, and everything else is a lot dirtier. The Stones are so overzealous here, so drunk on their own success and the delusions that they could pull off literally anything, that they even overreach a little. Some Girls, for instance, never would have ended its title track with an odd, “Rocky Horror Picture Show”-ish spoken word. Or, for that matter, attempted a song like “Where The Boys Go,” where Mick Jagger lets his short-lived Johnny Rotten impression get a little too flagrant, while his band does its best to emulate The Undertones:



Not everything on Emotional Rescue worked—at least not for everyone—but the fact that 18 years into their career, the Stones were still passably pulling off just about any style of pop music still boggles my mind.

A year later the Stones would release their last great album, Tattoo You, then over a string of increasingly irrelevant albums gradually become the world’s biggest nostalgia act, but Emotional Rescue captures my imagination because it suggests an alternate reality where the Stones stayed with the times instead of inevitably falling behind them. If they could do punk these effortlessly in 1980, why couldn’t they be doing college rock a la The Replacements by the late ’80s, grand U2-styled alternative rock in the ’90s and stripped-down, Rick Rubin-ish comeback albums in the 2000s? Instead we got lame synthesizers in the ’80s and musty hard-rock albums ever since. Emotional Rescue, though, is the work of a band seemingly too cool to ever fall into the tar pits.
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