April 13, 2012
“Best” means “my favorite.”
“My favorite” was determined through highly unscientific means.
I’m going to do one of these every Friday until we’re somewhere in the negative numbers.
What we’re here for
Before we even talk about this song, I think we need to just stop and look at the single’s cover art. My copy of Shadowplayers is currently, hopefully, with some nice loving Scottish family after I ended up dumping it in a Glaswegian Oxfam bookshop, but if I remember it correctly, Peter Saville was–per the norm–horrendously late with this cover image, displeasing the label greatly. Still, though, fuck, look at it:
There’s something very New Aesthetic about it–even though half of the people crowing about the New Aesthetic were probably not even pubescent in 1990–but it’s also dramatic and majestic, isn’t it? Serene, almost, like a computer dreaming of the ocean. The only bombastic concession to the fact that it’s a World Cup single–as opposed to the non-bombastic abstraction of the soccer-ball world map–is the bold white all-caps ‘ENGLAND,’ the most instantly eye-catching single piece.
So, yes, this is a World Cup song, which is one of those things that matters in Europe. The English national football team has only ever won one World Cup, in 1966, and since then, the great nation of England has generally never shut the fuck up about it. World Cup announcer Kenneth Wolstenholme was trotted out to record variations of his famous commentary on the end of the ’66 Cup finals, which both begins and ends the song.
Never mind the fact that England team member John Barnes raps about being a football player midway through it. (Again, if I’m remembering Shadowplayers correctly, they wanted a bunch of players on the song, and he was the only one to show any concrete interest. Nonetheless, the rest of the team plays chorus in a couple spots.) The best part of “World in Motion…” is how casually disinterested it is in football, approaching it only in the vaguest possible terms. “Arrivederci,” goes the chorus, because the ’90 World Cup was in Italy. Barnes himself even declares: “This ain’t no football song.”
To show how wrong it could have gone, we need only look to examples like “We’re on the Ball” by Ant and Dec:
Send an S.O.S.
A country’s in need
Sven’s the man, he’s got a plan
We’ve found that super Swede
Thank fuck for Bernard Sumner and Keith Allen, then.
New Order were in one of their periodic bouts of chronic fatigue syndrome, which bands tend to come down with when all of the members become sick of each other. It took the marshaling power of their label boss, Factory impresario Tony Wilson, to cajole a track out of them–and even then, the comedian Keith Allen had to be brought in to co-write the lyrics. Between Allen, Barnes’s rap, the unusually outgoing gang-chorus bits (even at their most dance-tructive, New Order’s vocal lines had always been solemn, introspective, and utterly alone), this is the most expansive New Order ever got–even Wilson contributed, reportedly inventing the “EN-GER-LAND!” cadence of the backing vocals. The whole thing is a joyful roar, meant to be shared.
This was probably the last genuinely jubilant record Factory ever put out. After this, New Order fucked off to Ibiza to make Republic, and the label’s great white hope became the Happy Mondays, whose boom and bust can be summarized with a single album title: Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. (Even under the wing of Paul Oakenfold on that record, there’s still something slurred and menacing about the ’91 Mondays–the wild-eyed glee of tracks like “W.F.L.” was markedly absent. I had to crucify somebody today…) Then Factory died, largely because of bad real estate investments. Republic ended up featuring songs like “Regret” and “Ruined in a Day“–hardly blissful.
“World in Motion…” is, like all the best songs, a record that perfectly captures a singular moment. England–Manchester especially–was in the midst of an unprecedented club-drug boom in 1988 and 1989, and MDMA convinced even the most leathery toughs to go from ‘ard to ‘ugs, if only briefly. Though “World in Motion…” didn’t hit the shelves until May of 1990, that vibe still surges inside it. The final chant couldn’t make it more obvious. “We’re sing-ING for England,” New Order says, and if you’re not mishearing it, you’re missing the point.