Track Exchange: "The Drugs don't Work", by the Verve

This is a weekly exchange of music between Jose and me. You can read Jose's response to my track (and find out why he chose this one) here

First Response

This week, Jose has taken a trip back to my adolescence, with "The Drugs Don't Work", by the Verve. I have to admit, I missed this song the first time around, though I definitely didn't miss "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (I don't think it would have been possible to miss Bittersweet Symphony as a fan of rock music in the nineties). However I definitely read a piece in a British music magazine declaring "The Drugs Don't Work" to be an anthem for its particular, rather brief era. 

Anyway, enough about that. On to the song itself:


The first thing I noticed was the strings - real strings, not like the Rolling Stones sample that cost The Verve their royalties on "Bitter Sweet Symphony."

Interestingly, my own memories of the Verve made it a lot harder to listen to THIS song "fresh" than it was to listen to Mac Demarco. For example, that article I said I wasn't going to talk about anymore, and don't really member, (almost) definitely said that the Verve's lead singer said the song was about his father's illness, not (as one might naturally assume) about substance abuse. Remembering that, and remembering my own father being in the hospital, meant that the line "The drugs don't work/they just make it work" hit me like a punch in the gut. But then, as the song went on, I started thinking "y'know, this really does sound like it's probably about substance abuse after all." So my relationship to the song was complicated. 

Enough subtext - on to the music:

The basic chord pattern of the song, though not groundbreaking, is extremely effective (it's a tiny little emotional journey - it reminds me of Leonard Cohen's description of "the minor turn and the major lift" in "Hallelujah").

Then there's the two extremely country-sounding guitars which are, in the best possible way, "noodling" in the background. A warm, reverby sound from one, the other one sounding like it's it's being played in an empty concert hall, a long way from the mic. I'm showing my limited guitar knowledge here, but is there pedal steel going on there?

Now, everything sounds like the Beatles if you listen hard enough, but the "Oooh, la la la la  - la  - la - la la la" backup vocals definitely reminded me of those great falsetto "ooh la la las" on "You Won't See Me."

My last, rather odd musical reference point is the final stab by the strings that ends the song reminds me profoundly of "VIllage Ghetto Land" by Stevie Wonder. And Jose, you should listen to that, so I'm choosing it as my next track exchange.

Why I chose my song

For reasons I can't explain, as soon as we started Track Exchange I thought "I've got to choose a song by Love. I wasn't even a fan of Love until my twenties, and I've never listened to any of their stuff besides Forever Changes, but that album is just fantastic. Even when it's ridiculous it's fantastic (and it's often ridiculous, just look at the track list). The reason I chose this track is the trumpet solo that the singer sings along to. That's one of my all-time favorite moments in popular music.

Next week's pick: