In a simple but swaggering strum, dancehall-style melodies somehow removed from the sway of a standard groove stoke the flames of a worldbeat harmony at the starting point in “Money is the Drug,” the latest single from acclaimed singer and songwriter Barrington Levy released earlier this month to a modest reception from critics and fans. They’re not the only evocative element that’s vying for our affections in the inaugural bars of this ballad; they’re joined by a plaintive arrangement and a melancholic croon from Levy, whose weathered reflections provide us with a personable side of his artistry that was missing from previous efforts and finds a most welcome home here. The dirge of an understated drumbeat doesn’t spice up the track as much as I would hope for it to, but be that as it may, “Money is the Drug” is an engaging crossover song that relies more on substance than superficiality to make an emotive statement.
Levy plods through the verses at half the speed of the percussion, and rather than forcing an interesting swing into the rhythm, it kind of interrupts the fluidity of the lyrics, at least in the first few stanzas. We chug along until we get to the chorus, where the instrumentation and the vocal finally synchronize, but it doesn’t last very long; once the cathartic resonance of the hook fades away, we’re back in the position of being wedged between the grind of the drums and the melody in the singing. The tension is off the charts, but something tells me this was the goal the whole time – to get us to the edge of our seats beside the man of the hour himself.
The production value of “Money is the Drug” is the most alluring quality to be discovered in its running time, as it’s far and away the most sophisticated of anything that Barrington Levy has committed to master tape thus far. If there was just a little less competition coming out of his scene and the better part of the crossover underground this autumn season, I think this could have been the track to break him into the mainstream; but alas, “Money is the Drug” is ultimately a stepping stone for a songwriter who has the chops and has every reason to believe that the mainstream recognition he seeks is right around the next bend.
We conclude with an instrumental salvo that serves as the finale for the song and brings us full circle to where we first started in the bold hum of the intro. As many times as I’ve listened to this track, I’ve yet to completely understand the intricacies that Barrington Levy is juggling here, mostly because his moves are as streamlined and on-point as they are. There are shades of both sides of the dial in this single, and if anything, I think that “Money is the Drug” is a symbolic statement piece about the creatively transitional place that this singer is in at the moment. From what’s presented here, something in my gut tells me this is but a glimpse into the future for Levy and his growing fan base.
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