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
In fact, the dark
wizards at Manimal Vinyl Records clearly grasp the
three sacred tenets regarding our favorite connoisseur of
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Manimal Vinyl Records released Through the
Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna November
"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