Monday, March 11th, 2019

Carly Rae Jepsen – No Drug Like Me

Waiting for the Carly to kick in…


Jonathan Bradley: Love is the drug, as pop music knows well, but Carly Rae Jepsen has never before needed the metaphor to evoke the intoxication in infatuation. And if she had never before sighed “starry eyes” over skin-glow synths, the cause could only be errata; that particular exhale has swirled since time immemorial in the primordial plasma from which all Jepsen music is formed. On this new single, she dives into inkiness on lines like “you say you love me but you wouldn’t dare” and “a little history of us in there,” but, for the most part, “No Drug Like Me” sticks to its tried fundamentals. These ones are quite fundamental.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Party for One” was a boring rehash of CRJ tropes, but “No Drug Like Me” is worse: a half-baked idea stretched thin. Jepsen’s at her very best when she’s able to allow a specific emotion to feel like the single most important thing in the world, the instrumentation working hard to keep pace. On “No Drug Like Me,” Jepsen’s vocal melodies stifle the intent of the lyrics, and the beat is just as confused about what she’s trying to accomplish. The verses’ bubbling pulses and silky synth pads hint at a foreplay that never reaches climax. In the awkward, wobbling funk instrumentation is a revelation: Jepsen’s been able to make all-caps EMOTIONS feel limitless, but her approaches to doing so have always been extremely limited.

Will Adams: Maybe it’s the titular drug that’s causing all this unnecessary haze (hey, here’s a downtempo Carly song that doesn’t sound like it’s been smothered in gauze), or maybe it’s just a fluke. Then again, the other co-single, while upbeat and glittery and generally better written, is little more than TV spot fodder. The lasting impression from these three songs of the past six months is less the impactful Emotion type and more perplexity about when exactly Carly Rae Jepsen stopped sounding like Carly Rae Jepsen.

Katherine St Asaph: Between this and “Party For One” I am genuinely worried about Carly Rae Jepsen’s voice. The problem this time isn’t shitty comping so much as a general smear of processing; the result isn’t distracting, until you compare it to her vocals on Kiss, or even a few years ago. Did the label hire a new, terrible vocal producer? Is it some ill-fated attempt to sound breathy and R&B — particularly weird, considering the genre’s full of singers like Kehlani and SZA with clear, bright voices? Did she blow out her voice on the “Cut to the Feeling” chorus? She still writes swooning lyrics — “if you make me feel in love, then I’ll blossom for you” should, well, blossom. But Jepsen’s voice always made every lyric feel urgent, exquisitely pained, almost piercing; flatten her vocals and and you get a flattened affect. It is a very strange feeling to wish Carly Rae Jepsen were singing a Carly Rae Jepsen song.

Alfred Soto: The big fat bass serves as guard rail, arm rail, and anchor — I can’t hear CRJ because I’m alternatively clutching or clinging to it. I can call this experience intoxicating or rote — there’s no drug like Advil after a night of mixing cocktails, but I wouldn’t call it one of a kind. 

Danilo Bortoli: Truth be told, Carly Rae has her own, very unique grasp to pop music. Not only because Emotion perfected and encapsulated a then ongoing trend, the nichification of pop, a world that album treated so specifically and absolutely that it is no wonder some people inside the bubble reacted to it being some sort of “Bible” for the modern era pop music fan. And absolute is a proper word for Jepsen now: her own narrative of love is so intense, so full of gimmickry, it is hard for critics not to confound her posture for extreme ingenuity. This wholesomeness has become her brand, a place of guaranteed safety which could often suggest something dangerous hidden below, both lyrically and sonically (“I have a cavern of secrets/None of them are for you,” culled from “Warm Blood”, are the best lyrics she has even written). The thing is, “No Drug Like Me” borrows from that strategy, which is ideal actually: While its twin is perhaps unduly sugarcoated, the latter is a bit more pensive, almost hypnotic. “No Drug Like Me” is not overproduced per se, but her approach to love as an ideal, lacking tension, has started to sound tiring. Which is to say: if Emotion was great partly because of its production on a sound design level (yet was transcendental to the point of becoming pop music), then “No Drug Like Me” tries to no avail to compensate its lack of tension with sound design. That offers an “interesting” sound, as a sound designer would say. But not enough from the queen of love itself.

Pedro João Santos: This Jeppo dual release is yet another day of #JusticeForEmotion, padded out with the praises of newer, more tangible love, and with a micro-backlash. Languid, glistening deluxe track “Favourite Colour” is brought to heel by a speed-up, a rubbery bassline and tighter songwriting, not to mention some sort of psychosexual vibrancy not unlike that of “Warm Blood,” but though excellent it may be, no surprises rest to be found. It’s interesting how these new songs are supported by sonic options. Those teasing, dizzying arpeggios buried in “Party for One”‘s hook, the batshit hi-NRJ bric-à-brac of “Now That I Found You,” the deep groove of this one?  Yessir. How I wish they went hand-in-hand with some sort of compositional or lyrical sense of innovation.

Iris Xie: “Take me to the limit, hold me down” is a promising intro, with a little bit of direct beckoning in a quiet space that pulses a bit in anticipation. But that’s where it ends, and afterwards, it all stalls. The chorus sounds stilted and forced, while not containing any of the expansiveness or wildness that usually would come from making a highly-tempered statement like “No Drug Like Me.” There also is an issue where the throbbing synths accentuate the dryness of her timbre, which doesn’t flatter the thinness of her voice. It’s a strange decision to make, considering how Emotion‘s production hid it quite well with the level of reverb applied to her singing, which brought out the luminosity of Jepsen’s sentiments. Additionally, in comparison to “Run Away With Me,” where the instrumentals focus on heightening the sensation of breathlessness that is the gap between her desires and her acting on them, “No Drug Like Me” and its inert bassline swallows up Jepsen’s usual heartfelt proclamations and makes her sound frail. Overall, “No Drug Like Me” exposes Jepsen’s weaknesses as a vocalist when not hyped on 4000 per cent joyful vulnerability and cavernous synthpop, and sounds like the start of her Side C album. Still, the little parts that call back to a quieter intimacy are not bad, especially in the part of “Why would we risk it for another try? (Another try, come alive).” But that sounds like the post-chorus, or bridge, of another, better song, and is not this one. 

Thomas Inskeep: That synth bass on the chorus is PHAT. The rest of the song is a bit more lightweight than I’d like to hear from CRJ; there needs to be more there there, y’know?

Vikram Joseph: Everything seems to be in its right place here — a shimmering electro-pop pulse that bubbles gently under the surface, a chorus that fizzes and sparks just as you’d expect it to — but this doesn’t land for me; it feels just a little rigid, forced, even. Perhaps it’s familiarity, or perhaps Sigrid and Tove Styrke are just doing this kind of alt-pop better right now, but Carly Rae Jepsen sounds short on flair and personality here, and “No Drug Like Me” struggles to get through Phase 1 trials.

Stephen Eisermann: Although tonally much of the same, “No Drug Like Me” feels much darker than most CRJ songs and it’s a welcome departure. This song takes a pretty tired metaphor and makes it feel new again, with the pulsing beat and CRJ’s smooth vocals doing a lot of the heavy lifting in creating a feeling of mystery being unfolded. It’s thrilling, sure, but more than that it’s CRJ’s best outing and is hopefully indicative of a different vibe for this next album.

Josh Love: I’m not the first to point out that Jepsen’s music is the YA of pop — readily enjoyable art made by an adult and largely consumed by adults that taps into the feelings and experiences of being a teen, the outsized romance and the innocence being dramatically (though usually safely) punctured by illicit thoughts and deeds. Its simile linking the effect of substances to the sensations of love without naming or describing a specific vice, “No Drug Like Me” embodies Jepsen’s earnest thrills.

Edward Okulicz: While I’m not the Jukebox’s biggest CRJ fan, even I can appreciate the delirious joy she exudes when she’s the subject of a good pop-crush story. I think she’s got a fine voice for the excitement of being awestruck in love, but her songs don’t quite hit the spot. On this one, the song’s worse than usual, I can’t even hear the aspects of her voice that I like through the treatment, and she’s lacking that bubbly enthusiasm she wears well as the subject of obsession. As the object, I don’t even believe her.

Reader average: [6.66] (12 votes)

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4 Responses to “Carly Rae Jepsen – No Drug Like Me”

  1. Is Now That I Found You being covered too? That one is easily in CRJ’s top 5

  2. @Carson As of now, no (especially since a music video doesn’t exist for it at the moment). The writers voted on which of the 2 CRJ songs to cover and this one got a few more votes. Surprised it didn’t score higher!

  3. I’ll give Party for One a six but this is zzzzz and a four at best.

  4. Important:

    Let me bump this up from a 5 to a 7.