This song is about a soldier who feels he is fighting for a noble cause, but looks forward to returning home to his family. In a twist ending, he comes home and finds his wife crying on the floor. A note in her hand reveals that the soldier has been killed, and he is home only in spirit.
New Order frontman Bernard Sumner wrote the lyric. His feelings about war are nuanced - he considered fighting for Britain in the 1982 Falklands War when Argentina invaded the British islands, but he is generally opposed to war.
In this song, he takes a stab at the kind of guy who just looks for aggression. "It's like a rebel song but it's very tongue-in-cheek," he told Melody Maker in 1986. "It's kinda laughing at rednecks. From what I said you may construe it to mean that I'm a redneck - I am not a redneck, I assure you, and 'Love Vigilantes' is like laughing at rednecks. The more ridiculous my lyrics are, the less serious the song is."
The band was in an altered state throughout recording the Low-Life album, relying on a cadre of engineers to piece together the tracks in a meticulous manner. Bernard Sumner says that the drug influence on their playing is quite evident on this track. He told Q magazine: "Listen to 'Love Vigilantes.' Listen to that chordal guitar solo. Listen to how fast it is. Impossible to recreate under normal circumstances."
Like many New Order songs, the title does not appear in the lyrics and appears to have nothing to do with the song.
Bernard Sumner revealed in a 2012 interview with GQ that he wrote the song differently than his normal process, in that he created it from scratch rather than listening to a piece of music first to suggest the words.
"I did that with "Love Vigilantes" where I decided to write a redneck song," he said. "It was quite tongue-in-cheek. It was about Vietnam. It was about a soldier that came back and his wife was sent a telegram to say that he was dead."
"You can take the ending one way or another." Sumner added. "He's either dead and he's come back as a ghost and he sees her or he's not dead and the telegram was a mistake. But his wife's got it and killed herself."