Various Artists: Wig in a Box: Songs from and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Andrew Gilstrap

Various Artists

Wig in a Box: Songs from and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Label: Off
US Release Date: 2003-10-28
UK Release Date: 2003-10-20

Hedwig and the Angry Inch gained some attention because, first of all, it's a rock musical -- what could be more self-indulgent than that? And sure, it gained attention because of its subject matter: the tale of a kinda post-operative transsexual's rock star dreams. But what kept it in the public eye was the simple fact that the story was fascinating and the songs were good. Underneath all the trappings that people could easily latch onto -- the glam influences, the sight of Hedwig in that wig, the animation of whales with legs -- were powerful songs that effectively conveyed the complexities of Hedwig's story.

With Wig in a Box, some pretty big names pay homage, and for a good cause. All profits from the sale of Wig in a Box go to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which (in its own words) is "the oldest and largest not-for-profit, multi-service agency dedicated to serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, providing a broad range of vital programming including: Educational services in the Harvey Milk School; individual, group, and family counseling, concrete services and case management for homeless and at-risk teenagers." In the case of this particular record, proceeds shouldn't be a problem: this is one of the liveliest, most vital tribute records in recent memory.

Rufus Wainwright kicks things off with "The Origin of Love", the Hedwig universe's mythological retelling of how the sexes were once combined, before jealous and fearful gods split them apart. Wainwright's sigh of a version is faithful to the original in terms of its keen sense of drama and epic scope. Jonathan Richaman's reprise, which closes the album, favors a more subdued, acoustic delivery. Both work, though; Wainwright's rendition gets you amped up for what's to come, and Richman's mildly celebratory take brings you back down to earth.

In between, you have Sleater-Kinney and the B-52s' Fred Schneider mustering all their vitriol to explain the meaning of "The Angry Inch", an unfettered Frank Black creating a perversely catch mix of country lope and needly, rockabilly guitar in "Sugar Daddy", and the Polyphonic Spree delivering a stately, fairly restrained (for them) take on the show tune stylings of "Wig in a Box". Your enjoyment of Bob Mould's electronica-driven version of "Nailed" probably comes down to whether you enjoyed his last album, but to these ears it holds a groove pretty well with several interesting changes in tempo. Spoon do a fine job of adapting "Tear Me Down" to their ramshackle aesthetic, and the Bens' (Kweller, Folds, and Lee) poppy but plaintive take on "Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis Version)" complements the Breeders' gentle, understated "(Hedwig Version)" earlier on the record.

An unexpected surprise comes in the form of "Milford Lake", a new track by Hedwig creators Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell. The song starts off as an evocation of small town life, clarifies into thoughts of personal regret (imagery from the town's history of floods gives way to lyrics like "water washes away many things / But I can't come clean" and "We're gonna drown"). The song's a really nice touch that adds a subtle new layer to the Hedwig story.

All in all, there's little to complain about with Wig in a Box. Trask and Mitchell were reportedly working on two new songs for the disc -- "The Water Song" and "U.F.O.'s". "The Water Song" may very well be "Milford Lake", and hopefully any other songs will soon see the light of day. The disc also nearly had Dolly Parton as a participant, and that would have been an interesting listen, to say the least. As it stands, though, Wig in a Box is a worthy tribute to a strong piece of work, one that seems to gain new converts and appreciation each time it's experienced.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.