Out of tune

David Stubbs runs the rule over this summer's musical offerings and finds a distinct lack of national pride swelling in his chest. Quite the opposite

 Time was when it was possible for the relevant authorities to frogmarch the England team en masse to the studio to record the official England song, in which they would assure us, back home, that this time they were going to get it right, their stilted choral tones betraying an appropriate lack of conviction that they wouldn’t come up short around the quarter-final mark.

Today’s professionals are too grand and too burdened with more lucrative commitments to participate in this chore, leaving the musical field clear for a competing rash of sanguine amateurs, has-beens, never-will-bes, shouldn’t-bes, gurning thumbs-uppers who wear the facepainted red stripe of St George like a lobotomy scar and, er, Mark E Smith.

There has this year been an overwhelming spate of underwhelming pro-England World Cup songs, most of which sound like they were bashed out in a greenhouse-cum-home studio. All of these share that peculiarly English sense of entitlement to the trophy as if 1966’s victory had rendered it our personal property, since unjustly passed around from the Brazilians, Germans and Italians, with a typically exasperating foreign emphasis on keeping possession. Forty-four years of hurt is the common sub-text – surely it must be our turn again this year – and not, ooh, the Dutch, the Spanish, any African team, any eastern European team.

Youngest first. “iKid” is Luke, an eight-year-old from the West Midlands. The England Fan is his ditty. Over a sample of Tears For Fears’s Shout in which the words “these are the things we can do without” have been prudently amended, Luke lauds his heroes in white who will “teach the world to kick a ball” (indeed we shall, and the world in return will teach us how to pass the thing to one another). If you can endure a small boy rapping in praise of Ashley Cole this may be the single for you.

This Time England, by a collective from Dorset known as State Of Undress, is a country and western number which sets off at a grand old clip, with all the optimism of Theo Walcott charging after a ball followed by the inevitable disappointment of his first touch. The lead singer’s boisterously flat, Anglo-Saxon tones as he declares England’s victory a certainty – “Brazil and Germany are ancient history” – make you envy the deaf.

Let’s Hear It England by Commentators United features samples of the various febrile language manglers from BBC, ITV, ESPN and Sky, the Cotswold Male Voice Choir and the sort of runaway rag-and-bone cart of a musical backing traditionally felt to be appropriate for football songs. It’s in aid of The Prince’s Trust but the only trust you need place is in your correspondent. This single belongs at the bottom of Lake Lamentable.

Having hit the bottom of said lake, it’s time to start drilling with the cast of Hollyoaks, that egregious waste of space between The Simpsons and Channel 4 News, who muster in facepaint to belt out Sing For England, or in their case bray, in a manner that would make drinking a cocktail of Wayne Rooney’s sweat and spittle a preferable experience.

The more obscure George and the Dragons offer Green Fields Of England, which despite its galumphing guitars is a marginally more thoughtful effort, lyrically summoning the spirit of the nation which straddles the Angel of the North, fish and chips, and, puzzlingly, Fawlty Towers, the most damning indictment of the Little England mentality ever committed to cathode. This is the England for which “Grandfather fought for in the wars”. Called up for both World Wars? Rotten luck, old man.

Individual celebrities chip in to the fray, including Spizzenergi (remember Where’s Captain Kirk?, a single for which Sid Vicious did decidedly not die). He joins up with Rubin Cube on It’ll Never Happen (Could Be This Time), an enervated, low-rent, Casio stab at a New Order vibe which as a rallying call to optimism succeeds only in evoking the underlying futility of human existence. “We’re not going out to Portugal, Brazil or France,” they bleat. Probably not. More likely Serbia.

Rik Mayall, whose aged appearance reminds you how long he’s been off our screens, revives the spirit of Flashheart on Noble England, hands on hips, reciting Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach dear friends” speech to a motley rabble of whey-faced doubters in England shirts. Chris Kamara, whose jheri-curled look harks back to a truer, better soul era, offers indirect tribute in the form of a sultry cover of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, played for seriousness not laughs, as if bidding England to take off its brassiere, my dear. An ironic choice of song, of course, precisely because he very much took his eye off matters when that Portsmouth player was sent off under his nose, unbeknown to him.

Jeff Christie reworks his 1971 hit Yellow River in an acceptably infectious, shuffling ska style on Hat Trick Of Lions (Come On England). And finally, Mark E Smith joins forces with an ex-Fall member Ed Blane and Jenny Shuttleworth under the name Shuttleworth on England’s Heartbeat, an oblique, affecting and not disdainful musing on England’s prospects in “Africa-land”. No dumb exhortations or deluded optimism here, however. With allusions to Stamford Bridge, 1976 and Brazil, there’s more of a sense of the England supporter as a lost soul drifting across the ghostscape of past football-inspired memories and dreams. Nice.

But generally, listening to this pile of patriotic poltroonery, you’re inclined to feel that a German team of pouting, diving mullet-heads, who greeted every goal by strutting about in front of the opposition fans to the strains of a Bavarian brass ensemble, managed by a cryogenically retrieved Kaiser Wilhelm in a spiked helmet, even this German team you would be strongly inclined to support if ever they played against the “Ingerland” so boorishly celebrated by this bellowing bunch of chancers.

From WSC 280 June 2010