What could have been the anticlimax of the year is instead one of the few true triumphs of the still young decade. Two years in the making with a few bonus months to allow for last-minute fretting over mixes, artwork, and the odd potential lawsuit (the controversial and excised "Claudine"), Emotional Rescue has been worth every minute's wait…. [The] group once introduced on Get Your Ya-Ya's Out as "the greatest rock & roll band in the world" has not been reduced to five tired old sods by the passage of time or fashion. In 1980, in the face of serious competition for the title by the Clash, the Stones stay in there, throwing some of their best punches since Exile on Main Street.
Ironically, Emotional Rescue, together with its platinum predecessor Some Girls, forms a body of hard, desperately physical yet just as defiantly mature music that could be called the Stones' own New York Calling. "Get up, get out, get into something new!" rails Mick Jagger from the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue, singing in "Dance" not like some jaded funkster but like a prophet in the 20th century wilderness. Once bloodied and bowed in their NYC ode "Shattered," Jagger and the Stones feed on all the adversity the city has to offer with passion and ferocity. And for their inspiration they go back to black—the music of long hot summers, frustration on the boil, sexual tension and the explosive release of same…. ["Down in the Hole"] is the first deep dark blues the Stones have recorded since "I Got the Blues" on Sticky Fingers and this one is far deeper, far darker….
There is also plenty of rock & roll as you know it. "Summer Romance," "Let Me Go," and "Where The Boys Are" sound on the surface like results of the same mold that made "Brown Sugar." Still, there is a rawness, a bouncing superball echo, and trashcan drum sound about them that recalls the American garage-punk sound of the '60s, itself the offspring of the Stones' original R&B grit and British Invasion enthusiasm….
[The] idea here is to rock 'til you drop. With the recession here and a draft on the way, the Rolling Stones have once again come to the rescue.
David Fricke, "Longplayers: 'Emotional Rescue'," in Circus Magazine (copyright © 1980 by Circus Enterprises Corporation). August 26, 1980, p. 54.