There is a very literal interpretation to this song, but that's not the one Verve lead singer Richard Ashcroft prefers. The group took plenty of drugs and other enhancements (mostly amphetamines) as they developed, especially around the time of their second album, A Northern Soul
, released in 1995. Drugs contributed to the anxiety and infighting that plagued those sessions and led to the band's breakup soon after it was released (they regrouped soon after for Urban Hymns
). And from a pharmacological standpoint, drugs become less effective as the user builds a tolerance.
But the song has a deeper meaning as well, which Ashcroft discussed a bit after the song was released. "I wrote that song out of love for someone and that's the way it came out," he said. "The thought that your love is predestined and if one of you dies you're destined to meet again."
As it became clear that listeners were assigning their own often very personal meanings to the song, Ashcroft made a point not to discuss it. "What I've found with lyrics is sometimes people's own interpretations are on another level to mine, certainly with things like 'The Drugs Don't Work,' he said in a 2018 Songfacts interview
. "I found that was the most sensitive tune to start. I realized then, 20 years ago, if I underline with a big marker pen, The Drugs Don't Work equals whatever
, then I'm killing it for people."