World Party, “Ship Of Fools”

Videos by American Songwriter

If you’re the glass-half-full type, you might look at the fact that a song like “Ship Of Fools” by World Party was written in 1986 as a reassuring thing. After all, if Karl Wallinger could have looked at the state of the world all those years ago and conceived of humanity as being on a runaway ship to Armageddon, maybe people who think that a similar fate awaits the world today can take a kind of solace in the notion that this particular songwriter felt the inmates ran the asylum even then.

Or maybe that’s an extremely sobering thought to you. That could be why Wallinger has released a new video for the song, directed by Nigel Dick, that depicts footage of world leaders and social issues as the song’s dire warnings play out in the background.

Wallinger explained to Billboard the idea behind the new video, “The world is in such a state,” he said. “The situation is getting crazy, isn’t it? It’s so ridiculous, this whole situation, mind-blowingly unintelligible. We were thinking about how do you make a comeback and decided to get very cynical. It’s a crazy place now, and people kept saying to me that it seems ‘Ship of Fools’ is more relevant today than when we put it out. So (the video) just came about, really. We wanted to do something — anything.”

For those who may have forgotten, World Party was essentially a one-man band, with Wallinger writing and performing all the songs, while also producing and playing most of the instruments. “Ship Of Fools” was the leadoff single for the project, sourced from the 1986 album Private Revolution. It battled its way into the US Top 40, which, considering the downbeat subject matter, says something about the innate catchiness of the pop-funk that is embellished by Anthony Thistlewaite’s honking sax.

“Ship Of Fools” takes the tone of a Biblical parable, with a smattering of mythical archetypes and historical atrocities thrown in as well. Wallinger doesn’t kid anybody about where this journey is headed: “We’re setting sail to a place on the map from which no one has ever returned” is the song’s very first line. He suggests also that human nature doesn’t need too much coaxing to take the wrong path: “It’s the place where they keep all the darkness you need/You sail away from the light of the world.”

Some deadly sins are on hand to see the doomed passengers off on their journey in the second verse. Wallinger seems at times to be addressing the captains of this journey, i.e. the world leaders who steer their citizens astray: “Traveling the world you’re in search of good/But I’m sure you’ll build your Sodom like you knew you would/Using all the good people for your galley slaves/As your little boat struggles through the warning waves.”

There is a comeuppance waiting for those wrong-headed enough to come on board, as Wallinger promises that “You will pay tomorrow.” But he also worries that even the innocent might get caught adrift. Hence the impassioned refrain of “Save me from tomorrow/I don’t want to sail on this ship of fools.”

The new video is also meant to herald the reissue of the entire World Party catalog in January, so the news isn’t all dire. Karl Wallinger is even talking about a new album, which, considering the health problems he has had to overcome, would be a true blessing. In any case, his most famous song stays forever relevant. Or, as the final caption on the new video of “Ship Of Fools” ominously states: “Now more than ever.”

Read the lyrics.

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