The Madonna Timeline: Song #81 – ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You’ – Winter 2009


{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.}

As quiet as it is tonight
You’d almost think you were safe
Your eyes are full of surprises
They cannot predict my fate
Waiting underneath the stars
There’s something you should know
The angels they surround my heart
Telling me to let you go…

This is one of those ‘morning-after’ songs, when you look at the world through the dim lens of regret, a look that is both frightening and unforgiving. Perhaps it’s the death knell of a relationship, or the realization that you’ve been betrayed. Perhaps a friendship has fallen apart and you understand and accept that there is no way to right it. Perhaps it’s the simple acknowledgment that what has passed is indeed, and finally, in the past, and we can never be the same. It is a chilling notion, and this is a chilling song.

From the 2008 album ‘Hard Candy’, this is Madonna at her most brittle and bitter, but there is beauty at work too. Resignation can be redemptive, and the cleaving of heartache a necessary, if brutal, form of self-preservation.

I bet he couldn’t
I bet he couldn’t recognize
But I played right into it
Who am I to criticize
So now I’ve been through it
And you won’t even realize
You’ve fallen for your own disguise…

Drugs or drink, sex or danger, debauchery or depravity – we all have our demons. They prey upon us in the night, they use and expose our vulnerability, they turn us inside out. “I know what it’s like to be bad. I’ve been bad…” In the gray light of dawn, the morning that always comes, no matter how late, we pick ourselves up, and clean up the mess. There is no happy ending, no quick and easy resolution, and we will do it all over again until it is all we know.

It’s like over and over
You’re pushing me right down to the floor
I should just walk away
Over and Over
I keep on coming back for more
I play into your fantasy
Now that’s its over
You can lie to me right through your smile
I see behind your eyes
Now I’m sober
No more intoxicating my mind.
Even the devil wouldn’t recognize you
I do…

Like her best songs, this one can be read on multiple levels – but in the end I think it’s as much about pointing the finger at yourself as it is about blaming others, confronting the visage in the mirror, the person we don’t always want to recognize, the person we pretend isn’t really there.

You’ve almost fooled yourself this time
Let all of the saints be praised
You hide your sadness behind your smile
And you keep your lost heart raised
With steps that edge along the ledge
It’s much higher than it seems
But I’ve been on that ledge before
You can’t hide yourself from me…

On her ‘Sticky & Sweet Tour’, Madonna performed a haunting rendition of the song, cloaked in black for much of its duration, only rising and revealing herself toward the end. In a career made out of pretend, it is a magically stark moment.

Song #81 – ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You’ – Winter 2009
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