Mick Jagger is just clowning around on the Rolling Stones' new album, "Emotional Rescue" (Rolling Stones records COC16015). His routines are fairly amusing: He broadly overplays the role of disco smoothie, Tex-Mex balladeer, down-and-out bluesman and even himself. Unfortunately, they're just routines. Jagger displays none of the passion he gave to "Miss You," "Shattered" and "Beast of Burden" in 1978, on the Stone's last LP, "Some Girls."
This doesn't mean that "Emotional Rescue" is a passionless album. Jagger is just one member of a band. The rest of the group gives the album the throbbing sexuality that makes it a great dance record. With Jagger lying back, the album shows just how good the Rolling Stones' rhythm section really is.
The first few bars of "Emotional Rescue" grab your attention, no matter which side you put on. And if you're not dead, you will start swaying to the lean, crisp syncopation of Charlie Watt's drums, Bill Wyman's bass and Keith Richards' guitar before you ever make out what Jagger is singing.
On "Where the Boys Go," Jagger is saying that he wants to get away from his woman and hang out with the boys on Saturday night. But the song's real message is in its instrumental bottom, which seems to urge -- no, insist -- that you do just that.
Wyman's bass pushes the beat with fast eighth-notes that solo through the song's chords. Watt's drums periodically break the song with sharp rolls and then pull it back together at an increased tempo. Richards' guitar pumps up reverberative chords to give the beat some body.
Like Chuck Berry, Richards has that rare knack for composing guitar figures that set up rhythm and melody simultaneously. These repeating phrases are instantly memorable and yet constantly fresh. Richards is often underestimated as a guitarist because anyone can play his simple hooks. Yet no one else but Berry seems able to compose them as consistently as Richards has.
Seven of the album's 10 songs are strong dance numbers. "Dance (Pt. 1)" is built on James Brown/Isley Brothers funk. "Send It to Me" borrows from Peter Tosh's reggae. The album's title tune takes the Bee Gees' disco formula, strips it of overproduction and injects some sassy humor. The other four dance tunes are in the familiar Stones rock-out style.
With this passion packed into the rhthym tracks, Jagger can play with the vocals. He can afford to act like a kid holding a suitcase-size transistor radio on "Dance (Pt. 1)." He can offer a mock list of potential lovers: "She might be Ukrainian/She could be Australian/She could be the Alien/Send her to me." He feign a melodramatic encounter between a barefoot "Indian Girl" and a guerrilla bounty hunter.
There's only one bad song on the album: Richards' disastrous attempts to be a pop crooner on "All About You." While the other songs never reach the peak of the Stones' best work, they mark a welcome return by rock 'n' roll's best dance band. Now in the mid-30s, the aging punks prove there's still something valuable for white rock 'n' roll bands to gain from black dance music.
It's a lesson that rock's new wave would be wise to heed. Only a few of the new bands have absorbed the syncopation of black music. Graham Parker and Elvis Costello have always had it; The Clash and Tom Petty have caught on.
Too many bands, though, imitate the unswinging, jackhammer beat of the Sex Pistols or the sluggish drone of the Talking Heads. The result is a lost of the sexuality that was the whole idea behind the rock 'n' roll in the first place.