Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is one of the songs the band recorded during the Joshua Tree sessions, but apparently never completed, so it wasn’t released. They finally finished it off and released it on the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered, it's kind of a dull song.
Bono has said that this is about Ethiopia, and it is pretty clear from the lyrics that is the case. The problem with that is that the lyrics put you into a specific time and place, and I’ve said before that is something that messes up a song for me. Whenever he has written songs that talk about an event, it generally hasn’t worked that well. Bono writes much better when he is writing about feelings, or about abstract thoughts. You might suggest that a song like Raised By Wolves breaks that rule, and although I’d agree because he’s writing about an event, he’s also writing about the feelings around it, and that improves it a lot. In Wave Of Sorrow he brings in that specific event, and specific references around that event, and that’s why the song never really came together.
Bono and Ali traveled to Ethiopia in the 1980s, spent a month or two there working in a refugee camp. Bono has cited that as inspiration for much of his life and the work he has done for Africa. One of the things he said was that the $100 million that Live Aid raised was equivalent to just a couple of weeks of debt payments for Africa. That is astounding, that the people there are starving and dying and any money that their country has had to go to debt instead of helping their people. Part of the song talks about that, the line “has every good thing now been sold” meaning that these countries are having to sell their treasures to pay their debts. The same is happening to Greece right now too, I saw a story the other day that said that creditors are trying to force the country to accept casinos, so that they could suck even more money out of the country. It really is time for people to start saying no to these economic vampires, tell them that they “invested” badly and that they lose all their money. Maybe next time they’ll think a little about it, and stop dragging people into debt to feed their own greed.
But the point of the song is how the people have been beaten down, that they are struggling enough that they want to give away their kids to someone who will feed them, or how they will go into prostitution to feed their family. Too many terrible situations when we could all help each other and everyone could survive. And he ends with “blessed is the spirit that overcomes” which I think is a pointer to the hope that survival can bring.
According to Rolling Stone the Birdland part of the name is a reference to a Patti Smith song that inspired them. I know nothing about Patti Smith or her song.
My rating for Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland): 2 / 10