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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Love is the Drug," and I'm writing about it again...

...well, I'm writing about this song and band for the first time, but the theme of love and desire is nothing new for me or music at large.

Man, for someone who doesn't know squat about love, I'm writing about a lot of songs that describe it.

Sure, it's one of the most common topics for a song, but it still strikes me as odd that it's been such a topic of choice for me for this blog. Maybe it's my subconscious reminding me of how much I want to be able to feel those things? Who knows.

One way or another, it seems as if a couple different aspects of love on which I've recently touched in posts come together in today's choice. Combine the pining for love from "Rainy Night in Georgia" and the desire to express it present in "Adorn"; mix in a bit of the addiction-based language from "Kiss from a Rose"; repackage it all in a funky prog-pop setting, et voilà, Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug." I didn't expect or intend to write about these themes again, but once I couldn't get this song's bass line out of my head (I guess that's similar to "Adorn" as well), I decided to dive into it as today's Senior Year Soundtrack addition.

I was first drawn to "Love is the Drug" by its main groove, a funky, polished slice of mid-70s pop. Bassist John Gustafson lays down one of the catchiest grooves of its time, a pulsating line with a fair amount of disco flavor; as it turns out, the disco feeling may come from Nile Rogers of Chic being inspired by it for tracks like "Good Times." In addition, the steady drumbeat provided by Paul Thompson consistently hits upbeats, another disco trope. On top of that low end, frontman Bryan Ferry's organ-like synth gets to work on brightening up the sound and outlining chords, while Phil Manzanera also adds chords on his guitar, using them to add a syncopated rhythm into the mix. Composer Andy Mackay's saxophone lines are simple, but effective in adding additional color and being the most forward of any instrument on the upper end of the register.

All the aforementioned instruments are part of the introduction, but to me they don't make the intro. What does make it for me is the audio of someone walking to their car, starting it, and driving off. It's quite uncommon in our time — and it was uncommon back in the 70s as well — for a song to begin with this sort of 'non-musical' audio, but when done well it can do wonders to set the stage for the theme and lyrics that follow. The audio in the opening to "Love is the Drug" most definitely succeeds in doing so, as it captures the beginnings of the late-night scene in which we find the narrator, pining for a currently nonexistent love. While Ferry sings that "t'ain't no big thing / to wait for the bell to ring," it's clear his narrator is tired of waiting and is looking to spark a romantic fire himself, and quickly. There's an air of restlessness in how he speaks of the matter, and that feeling is echoed in how the arrangement never sits still. Ferry's vocal inflection is constantly changing, the saxophone lines are never directly repeated, and as soon as you feel the chord progression might be getting tired, it too changes. The pivot into the first post-chorus is a marked shift, with a switch to a major chord and then more of a rock-like sound in the brief "ohh"s.

"Love is the Drug" very much captures its titular metaphor through the way Bryan Ferry approaches the topic amid singing through his narrator's night out. The perspective doesn't necessarily shift, but it always seems to be moving, accelerating toward some sort of conclusion. The pre-chorus uses the most directly addiction-related language in the narrator describing how they're "stitched up tight" and "can't shake free." Borrowing from Seal's lyrics in "Kiss from a Rose," just the thought of being in love to the "Love is a Drug" narrator is "like a growing addiction that [he] can't deny." Once he does finally get a taste of it at the end of the second verse, he's so excited that he rushes to the conclusion of the story in two ways. The narrator abridges the night's tale with "You can guess the rest" — though, of course, this is also intentionally coy — and Ferry sings the line with a feverish excitement that rushes ahead of the beat. The high of love is finally coming on in full force, and perhaps it's for the best that the song's narrative concludes there.

Considering I chose "Love is the Drug" for its sonic qualities rather than its lyrical ones, I'm personally surprised I got so into its narrative, even though that's become the norm for me. Maybe the way I ended up delving into its meaning is a statement from my subconscious about how I think of love. I'm in no means addicted to it, but I definitely have had some recent bouts of wishing for a more reachable form of it. I guess I won't even know if my theory is correct until I eventually experience those key, visceral emotions myself...?


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