Over the borderline and through the wilderness

To pay tribute to Madonna we go!

Madonna. What a name. So heavily weighted with the most important pop-culture moments in our young histories. She’s tangled tongues with Britney Spears and done the deed with Dennis Rodman, morphed from a cross-burning Catholic pariah to a Monroe-esque bombshell to Eva Peron in the blink of an eye. She’s spoken her mind and had no shame about any of it. She’s been as a boy toy, a button-pusher, a dominatrix, a yogi, a mother, a philanthropist and a peacemaker.

That chameleon-like nature has given the divine Miss M a longevity that the pop tartlets following in her footsteps can only envy. With an extensive music catalog spanning generations, an ever-changing style that has spawned countless trends, and an influence reaching far and wide, Madonna’s power and presence rivals that of Elvis, Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney. It only makes sense to give thanks to the gods of music for such an ambitious, inspiring, ballsy female musician.

Enter “Through the Wilderness.” This tribute album, cobbled together by the hippest of indie bands and folksiest of flower-children, worships at the altar of Madonna by totally revamping her greatest hits in all of their crucifix-wearing glory. The musical Madge menagerie comes complete with banjos, sitars and acoustic guitars where there had once been synth beats and keyboard hooks. You’d always longed to hear the dizzy, flirty “Beautiful Stranger” re-imagined as a jangly Bob Dylan-esque blues jam? It’s here, thanks to Golden Animals.

Most of the bands are pretty obscure (Lion of Panjshir, anyone?); perhaps best known is innocent-voiced Lavender Diamond, who tries her hand at “Like a Prayer.” But then again, it’s always fun to discover a bunch of new bands your well-versed friends haven’t heard of, isn’t it?

It’s daunting and daring to take on such pop classics as “Cherish,” “Crazy for You” and “Dress You Up,” but the various bands try their very hardest. Instead of wedding gowns, henna tattoos, and fingerless gloves, they’re doing it in striped cardigans and skinny jeans. Several of the covers strip away all the Madonna magic and fall flatter than Madge’s star turn in the cinematic tour de force “Swept Away.” “Dress You Up” becomes a slowed-down, drugged-out dirge in the hands of Apollo Heights, for example, and Giant Drag’s cover of “Oh Father” is just that, a giant drag. On the other hand, most manage to triumphantly enhance the Material Girl’s back catalog.

Folk princesses The Chapin Sisters work wonders with “Borderline,” keeping the candy-sweet vibe of the early Madonna single intact even though their interpretation is less “singing into your hairbrush” and more “four-part harmony.” The Prayers’ version of “Cherish” is just as joyous as its predecessor. Madonna’s musical masterpieces lend themselves well to warm, fuzzy twee-pop and a good chunk of “Through the Wilderness” retains that feelgood fabulousness.

The fun of the album, with its eclectic collective of both artists and covers, is discovering the depth of pop music that tends to be described as “superficial.” Underneath its glossy exterior, Ms. Ciccone’s musical repertoire proves itself possessing plenty of strength. The artists have put an abundance of thought into their interpretations, making miniscule changes where necessary to realize their vision. Certainly that’s the best way to pay homage.

Plus, with proceeds from the album going to a pet Madonna cause, charity Raising Malawi (dedicated to enriching the lives of the poverty-stricken country’s children), you can feel even better about shakin’ it around your room in your underwear.