I confess. On the first listen-through of Songs of Experience, I thought that “Red F lag Day” was the weakest song on the album. I didn’t really enjoy the song, and I was a little disappointed. I didn’t feel that the song was bad, exactly, it just didn’t measure up to the high standards that I usually have for U2. Now, however, after multiple listens to the album, I have come to appreciate “Red Flag Day” as a propulsive, melodic, down-to-Earth piece of work that really gives the rhythm section a chance to shine. My favorite of the song moment comes during the chorus — Bono sings the first couple of lines of the chorus backed only by an ethereal guitar, then Larry hits the snare and the band comes soaring back full-force, driving that great melodic hook to even greater heights. It is a magnificent moment of the band playing around with dynamics and using them to hook the listener. Otherwise, the song proceeds as a fairly standard U2 piece (read “heads above the rest”) that focuses on the primary elements of rock and roll — Edge strums a choppy guitar riff, perhaps intentionally reminiscent of the tempestuous seas that the singer encounters while at the beach, Adam rides those rough waves like a skilled surfer, and Larry, the real star of the show here, pounds the whole thing into submission. Oh yeah, before I move on to discussing the lyrics, I would be remiss if I didn’t give some love to the hook. The hook is the thing, and Bono’s ear-worm delivery on the choruses really cements the song’s deserving place with the rest of this amazing album. Also, the middle eight, where Bono wails “No” repeatedly is among the strongest moments on the whole record for me.
As I stated above, it took a few hearings for me to really “get” this song, and that especially holds true for the message behind the lyrics. I really relate to Bono’s admission here that the thing he is most afraid of is losing his wife, Ali. I feel the same way about my relationship with my wife — that would be the nail in the coffin for me, if something ever happened to my wife. Despite that fear, though, Bono is urging her to tread out into the turbulent waters, to try something new and different and a little bit scary. That’s what this song is all about — looking danger, your fears, right in the face and not blinking. Going on with your life and moving past those fears.
As of the date of this writing, “Red Flag Day” has not been performed live. I’m really on the fence about this song’s chances for getting played on the upcoming Experience + Innocence Tour. On the one hand, it is a fairly simple song, without a lot of keyboard or other embellishments that would make the song difficult to recreate live, so it seems like a shoo-in. On the other hand, that middle eight might be difficult for Bono to sing on a nightly basis, so the band might decide to skip the song altogether, or just to play it on special occasions, like they did with “California (There is No End to Love).” It will be interesting to see what U2 chooses to do for the set-list on this tour, and I will be waiting anxiously right beside the rest of you as the twelfth of May draws closer.