Scroll To Top

Indie Artists Do
Justice to the Queen of Pop

Indie Artists Do
Justice to the Queen of Pop


Madonnahead Louis Virtel listens to Through the Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna and finds much to cherish.

How can a Madonna tribute album called Through the Wilderness not feature a cover of "Like a Virgin"? Simple--the producers knew exactly what they were doing.

In fact, the dark wizards at Manimal Vinyl Records clearly grasp the three sacred tenets regarding our favorite connoisseur of fuchsia leotards:

1. "Like a Virgin" is the one Madonna single none of us need to hear again. In any form. A sly reference to its lyrics is all we need, especially since "wilderness" aptly conveys the warped, lo-fi fuzz that couches the album's songs.

2. Like television for Lourdes and Rocco, some songs are just irrevocably off-limits. A few classics need to stay vacuum-sealed, or locked with love in a pristinely air-conditioned wine cellar. Because of this, no one here touches "Vogue," "Express Yourself," or "Open Your Heart." After all, these punks and warblers are going for "tribute," not "historical insult."

3. If you must cover Madonna, there's no use replicating (or even resembling) the original version. The Mother of Pop's image remains so overwhelming and omnipresent that attempting a remake produces only paltry reiteration. If you insist on revisiting "La Isla Bonita," you better ignite the thing with a 30-second Claptonesque guitar solo like Jonathan Wilson does here. Your take on "Beautiful Stranger" better lose half the lyrics and sound more like Bob Dylan bemoaning subterranean homesickness (props to the Golden Animals).

Sound impossible? The whole project defies formidable odds, venturing into worlds where even Madonna hasn't feigned interest. The new-wave angst of Jeremy Jay's "Into the Groove" doubles as catchy and heavy (and a little adorable; imagine a glum David Byrne singing "Only when I'm dancing can I feel this free," complete with his cartoonish inhales). And the Apollo Heights' affectionately creepy cover of "Dress You Up" transforms the number into a combo of power ballad and romantic fixation. The gutsier among us might decode it as a sick masturbation ode.

What Through the Wilderness lacks in immaculate sound quality it partly regains with the kinds of vocalists who work best in aural shadows. The folksy sighs of girl acts Winter Flowers and the Chapin Sisters color the album's two best covers, "Live to Tell" and "Borderline," respectively. The former is a fluffier take on the At Close Range soundtrack epic while the latter emphasizes that longing innocence we've come to miss about Madonna.

And yet, despite the juxtaposition of all these mismatched genres, Through the Wilderness's single greatest peculiarity is its intense focus on '80s work. Only that bluesy version of "Beautiful Stranger" and a forgettable "Hung Up" retread break the chain. Surely Madonna's '90s and '00s albums contained some of her best songwriting--where's the tragic send-up of "Deeper and Deeper"? Or a homicidal spin on "Secret"? Couldn't those breathy Winter Flowers girls rework "Don't Tell Me"? We'd ignore these omissions if only there weren't boring takes on the also-overplayed "Like a Prayer" courtesy of Lavender Diamond and "Lucky Star" as sung by Alexandra Hope rounding out the album. To be sure, some potential here is missed--but again, the opportunity to bridge Madonna to both the sounds of Peter, Paul, and Mary and Soft Cell keeps the deformed nostalgia flowing.

There's a firm reason to admire this album: for its sheer bizarreness, its insistence to only use Madonna as a point of reference, not a host body. But more important, you love Through the Wilderness for its sincere misfits who transform Madonna's extolled oeuvre into something refreshing and earthly but still mysteriously retro. Completely "shiny and new" it isn't--and thank God, from all of us.

Manimal Vinyl Records released Through the Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna November 27.

Track list:

"La Isla Bonita" -- Jonathan Wilson "Into the Groove" -- Jeremy Jay "Beautiful Stranger" -- Golden Animals "Live to Tell" -- Winter Flowers "Material Girl" -- Mountain Party "Everybody" -- Ariel Pink "Oh Father" -- Giant Drag "Hung Up" -- The Tyde "Lucky Star" -- Alexandra Hope "Borderline" -- The Chapin Sisters "Who's That Girl" -- The Bubonic Plague "Dress You Up" -- Apollo Heights "Cherish" -- The Prayers "Crazy for You" -- Lion of Panjshir "Like a Prayer" -- Lavender Diamond

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Louis Virtel