U2101 – The Refugee

Wow. What a week, huh? U2 kicked off the eXPERIENCE+iNNOCENCE Tour in grand fashion in Tulsa, Oklahoma with what might be my favorite set-list ever. The band also released a single containing remixes of “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way.” This release contains a great version of the titular song in the Funk Hunters mix, what is probably my favorite remix of a U2 song since the Discotheque remix single twenty-one years ago. But, we’re not here to talk about all of this exciting new stuff…no, we’re taking it back thirty-five years to an album called War, U2’s first number one record in the UK. I know, “you glorify the past when the future dries up” and all that, but I’ve already covered the opening night of the Tour in great detail (if you’re interested, you can read that review here), so it’s to the past we go.

For an album that is as full of hits as War, there are just as many songs that go virtually unmentioned. I am here today to sing the praises of one of those underrated songs, “The Refugee.” I read on Twitter the other day a suggestion from someone (sorry…I don’t remember who) that U2 drop “American Soul” and replace it with “The Refugee.” I definitely don’t favor the idea of U2 dropping any songs from the new album, but that comment got me thinking about how germane “The Refugee” is to our current world situation, even all these years later. A couple of other songs on War ask “How long to sing this song,” and the sad truth is that at this point there’s no telling when there won’t be a need for songs like “The Refugee,” “40,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” I guess it’s true that the more things change the more they stay the same.

“The Refugee” is cut from the same cloth as most of war–that is, hard-driving, rhythmic rock with a message. The song also incorporates a feature that U2 would go on to perfect with songs like “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “With or Without You”–the sing-along “Whoa-oh-oh.” I’ve read in the past that Bono believes in the power of wordless singing, where ideas and feelings are expressed just as eloquently, if not more so, by sounds that don’t have a dictionary definition. The ideas expressed by the closing chorus of “whoa-oh-oh” in “The Refugee” are solidarity, toughness, and perseverance. All of that without singing or speaking a single word.

“The Refugee” has never been played live. realize that we just now got the live debut of a song that fans have been clamoring for in “Acrobat,” and that people would probably much rather hear “Drowning Man” from the same album, but I still believe that it would be a powerful statement, right now, to perform “The Refugee” in America. I suppose that “American Soul” makes the same statement, but I think that it would be a great one-two punch if U2 played the two songs in sequence. There’s no time like the present for reviving old songs, apparently, so I say “Go for it”!

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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