This song starts with a strange, almost alien sound. It sounds not warm as usual with ABBA, but rather chilly. It is ominous, and even more ominous when the first verse starts. And that's exactly what the lyrics are about. In the second verse the music sounds not only ominous, but also more urgent. That's ABBA, every verse with different sounds and effects. Beautiful. The music seems to flow with the lyrics, numb and frozen when the lyrics say so, more urgent when the doorbell rings again and someone even tries the door-knob, with a faint feeling of nostalgia when Frida sings about the friends not daring to come here anymore. The chorus puts together another rhythm with male voices in the background. It depicts a nasty atmosphere with invisible voices, unwanted visitors. Maybe the visitors have attacked when the third melody comes in. This melody is instrumental, leaving all evil possibilities to your imagination.
Again a verse. She looks around the room that holds so many memories, the hope for freedom, but urgently sounds 'they've come to take me, come to break me'. It's inevitable, it has always been. Her last cry for help almost gets unhearable in the swelling music. And again there are the muffled voices. Through the voices sounds another couple of times 'I have been waiting for these visitors', broken, cracked up, lost.
Lost from whom? From what? Lost from the dictatorship? If so, this is still not a protest song, rather a memory about a protest song.
Art is a styled expression of emotions. Expressing emotions is common for everybody. Essential to art is emotional expression, but touching emotions by themselves are not art. Not any human expression is art, it has to meet certain criteria in order to be regarded as art, although such criteria are hard to define. Different elements of a piece can not stand alone, they have to belong to each other, have to fit in each other, in other words they have to be styled and ordered in a way, proper to invoke an experience of beauty. These restrictions the artist puts on his work. Or actually, the audience puts those restrictions on the artist. Eventually the audience are the ones who judge the piece of art to be beautiful or not, whether it concerns music, literature, visual arts or whatever sort of art. The expression has to be styled, has to conform to stylistic restrictions. Which style you appreciate, is a matter of taste of course, there is a palette with 1001 possibilities, but without style it wouldn't be art. Like a speaker with a nice voice is not a singer. Art is a styled expression of emotions.
In transferring emotions in their music the ABBA-members are masters. You feel the music you hear, you feel the lyrics you hear, and the two of those are conformable.
In history music has been used for political goals. But a protest song is not automatically art. Protest songs are just a way to use music and words for the benefit of the message. ABBA does not bring messages, even though this song is about politics. Despite the political subject, the lyrics are restraint to the sheer emotions in this politically driven situation. Is this song a complaint against dictatorship in Eastern Europe during the cold war? No, it's not a complaint, not a protest song, it is merely a depiction of emotions. And that's what makes it being art. An artist would be trapped if he were seduced into making a complaint. And the avoidance of this trap makes this song special. It makes the song the most striking example of art.
© 2018 Reinhard Beskers