What should one expect from an artist who has made his first album in over 40 years? And when you have a fan base that worships the work you made as a pop music prodigy in your teens and twenties, what are they to make of new songs recorded by the same man at the age of 65? If Emitt Rhodes spent much time pondering these questions while he was making Rainbow Ends, the first album he's released since 1973's Farewell to Paradise, you don't hear it in the final product; Rhodes has made an album that reflects the man he is today, not the guy who seemed like the new Paul McCartney on his 1970 solo debut, and it's clear (as it should be) this isn't the work of a young man focused on life's possibilities. Rainbow Ends is a set of songs where Rhodes looks back on his life, largely in terms of his relationships, and it most often focuses on the things that went wrong, whether he was the one who walked away ("Dog on a Chain"), he was the partner left alone and abandoned ("What's a Man to Do"), or he's still trying to figure out how it all went wrong ("This Wall Between Us" and "If I Knew Then"). Outside of "Put Some Rhythm to It," a witty tale of his failings as a dancer, Rainbow Ends is a litany of dark nights and broken hearts, and while the melodies often sound like the work of the man who wrote "Fresh as a Daisy" and "Live," these songs chart the path where the boy wonder grew into a rueful and cautious man. This music also has a different personality than Rhodes' classic work of the '70s for a very particular reason: while he multi-tracked himself into a one-man band on those albums, Rhodes does little instrumental work on Rainbow Ends, and while he has an exceptionally good studio crew behind him (including power pop obsessives Jon Brion, Jason Falkner, and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., as well as Wilco's Nels Cline and backing vocals from Aimee Mann and Susanna Hoffs), this evokes the spirit of Rhodes' salad days but with a decidedly different sonic approach. As a songwriter, Rhodes' lyrics on Rainbow Ends are obsessively personal, but these songs rank with the most literate and direct material he's ever offered us, and his melodies have gained a certain sophistication while still sounding like manna for pop fanciers. Listeners who were hoping Rainbow Ends would sound or feel like Emitt Rhodes or Mirror were probably fooling themselves, and that's certainly not what the songwriter and his colleagues were aiming for; instead, this is a mature, introspective work from a man looking for answers to the questions of life and love, and it's a brave and genuinely impressive return to the spotlight from a major talent.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming