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The Madonna Timeline: Song #42 – ‘Voices’ – Spring 2008

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Who is the master? Who is the slave?

Ambivalence, apprehension, unfinished business – they’re all a part of ‘Voices’, the final track of Madonna’s 2008 Hard Candy album. (Yes it’s been three years since her last original studio effort… [clears throat, dramatic pause, “I’m waiting… Why can Donna and Niki not hear themselves?” Sound by JimCo...]

The song itself is a complex note on which to end her final studio album for Warner Brothers, finishing with a flourish of dramatic bass-drum pounding, and closing with the lone ring of a church bell or, in this case, the death knell of a relationship.

Treat me like a curse, Then tell me I’m your savior,
I’m living with a stranger I used to know so well.
Waiting for your answer is a kind of torture,
Could I grow accustomed to this kind of hell?
Are you walking the dog, cause that dog isn’t new?
Are you out of control, is that dog walking you?
Haven’t you had enough, now your time is up?
Baby show me your hand…

The lyrics are laden with tension, as Madonna contemplates a relationship gone sour (her own marriage to Guy Ritchie ended soon thereafter) and the push and pull of what constitutes doubt amid love and trust. It’s interesting to note the maturation and thoughtfulness present here, and when you compare this to something from the earnest, if broad, innocence of the tracks on Like A Virgin or True Blue, it reveals a remarkable measurement of growth. Madonna doesn’t completely exonerate herself from the blame either, but it’s clear she is the wiser observer in this scenario, even if she’s not capable of saving the situation.

Voices start to ring in my head, tell me what do they say?
Distant echoes from another time start to creep in your brain.
So you’re playing round this like it’s convenient,
You do it so often that you start to believe it.
You have demons so nobody can blame you
But who is the master and who is the slave?

As her musical and life journeys have played out over the years, her artistic output, as seen in songs such as this, has at times turned darker, and deeper than the bright pop hits that get noticed and released. A challenging gem like ‘Voices’ tends to get lost in the shuffle.

First you say you love me then you wanna leave me
Then you say you’re sorry, you play the game so well
I bought your illusion, you’re the greatest salesman
How could I refuse you when you sold it to yourself?

In some ways (and I do realize it’s unfair to compare the two), this is the second-marriage version of ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, though Madonna would likely never come clean about its genesis or who it may really be about. That’s part of her own game, as much for self-preservation and privacy as it is out of respect.

Are you walking the dog, cause that dog isn’t new?
Are you out of control, is that dog walking you?
Haven’t you had enough, now your time is up?
Baby show me your hand
Voices start to ring in my head, tell me what do they say?
Distant echoes from another time start to creep in your brain.
So you’re playing round this like it’s convenient,
You do it so often that you start to believe it…

No one knows what really goes on in anyone else’s marriage. So much of it is secret, so much of it is hidden. Madonna only hints at deeper breaks and fissures, which makes the impact of this that much stronger. Someone once said that a marriage makes secrets a necessity – sometimes the secrets help, and sometimes they hurt. Reading into the relationship of a stranger, albeit a very public performer who revels in revealing art, feels wrong and invasive. Yet it’s also a comfort to know that even someone as perfect as Madonna doesn’t have it all figured out yet.

You have demons so nobody can blame you
But who is the master and who is the slave?
Song #42: ‘Voices’ – Spring 2008
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