Various Artists

Wig in a Box

  • AllMusic Rating
    8
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's gender-bending, heartbreaking musical soundtrack, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, has already become something of a cult classic, particularly with indie-rockers, so Wig in a Box: Songs From and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which features artists ranging from Yoko Ono to They Might Be Giants, brings the phenomenon full circle. Hedwig's mix of punk, glam, pop, and sweet ballads leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and fortunately the cast of artists that participate in this project have strong enough musical identities that the album doesn't devolve into a karaoke party for hipsters. Even though Wig in a Box does have its share of pleasant-enough renditions, such as Rufus Wainwright's and Jonathan Richman's versions of "The Origin of Love" that bookend the album, and Imperial Teen's synth-poppy take on "Freaks," the collection has more than enough great performances to make it worthwhile for Hedwig fans, as well as fans of the artists here. Many of the best performances make the most of the fluidity of gender and sexuality that Hedwig and the Angry Inch revolves around: Sleater-Kinney and Fred Schneider's "Angry Inch" uses Corin Tucker's ferocious wail to depict the horror of Hedwig's botched sex change operation, and Scheider's bitchy delivery for bon mots like "I was bleeding from the gash between my legs -- it's my first day as a woman and already it's that time of the month?" Frank Black's "Sugar Daddy," which sounds like some twisted relation of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," is one of the album's most vibrant songs, reclaiming some of the Pixies' subversiveness as Black enthuses about "the thrill of control" and snarls, "You buy me that dress and I'll be more woman than you can stand." Black's former bandmate Kim Deal scores another of the album's highlights on the Breeders' "Wicked Little Town," which captures the tentative, elliptical beauty of Title TK in a wonderfully warm and intimate performance. Ben Kweller, Ben Folds, and Ben Lee's response version of the song is nearly as good, with Kweller's vulnerable singing playing Tommy Gnosis to Deal's Hedwig. The Polyphonic Spree and Spoon are responsible for two of the album's best, and most different moments, with the Spree's ecstatic version of "Wig in a Box" suiting both the song and their style to a 'T', and Spoon's "Tear Me Down" recalling the tension and fury of the Who and the Rolling Stones in their prime. Yoko Ono and Yo La Tengo's "Hedwig's Lament / Exquisite Corpse" strikes a similar chord, moving from ghostly, nearly alien vocals and music into fierce punk. On the other hand, They Might Be Giants' bittersweet "The Long Grift" makes nearly as much impact with a lot less volume. The collection's new songs, Robyn Hitchcock's tense but sweet "City of Women," and John Cameron Mitchell & Stephen Trask's "Milford Lake," also go in a surprisingly subdued direction. The album's only true stumble is Bob Mould's dance version of "Nailed," which tries to take the song's eroticism in the clubby direction of his latest work. While it's not entirely successful, it is unique. Fortunately, nearly all of Wig in a Box is both unique and successful, and considering that its proceeds go to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk School, a place of learning and counseling for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, the album's cause and its music are both worthwhile.

blue highlight denotes track pick