Album: Queen Elvis
. . .
“Madonna Of The Wasps” just might be my favorite Robyn Hitchcock song.
That said, by any objective standard, it’s his greatest song, right? I know that some of you might stan for “I Wanna Destroy You” — it’s certainly been covered by more people — and I can’t argue too hard with you. Except to say this: “Madonna of the Wasps” is an utterly perfect pop confection from the opening chant to the guitar solo at the fade. In the same universe that all of the great Replacements singles cracked the top 10, “Madonna of the Wasps” was an instant smash #1 all around the world.
But, of course, we’re stuck in this universe, and “Madonna of the Wasps” is frightfully underheard, though I hope that the great Neko Case cover turned more people on to it. Honestly, I don’t want a single person to die without having experienced this three minutes of utter bliss at least once.
Fading with with a heavenly chorus of Robyn and bassist Andy Metcalfe asking the eternal question — Is this love? Is this love? — “Madonna of the Wasps” then segues to a build driven by drummer Morris Windsor, as the guitars of Robyn Hitchock and secret weapon Peter Buck weave around each so expertly, you really don’t know who is playing what.
There’s a bit of “Bells of Rhymney” or maybe “Wild Mountain Thyme” in here: the melody is both fresh and timeless, like it’s been in our heads all along, but only Robyn Hitchcock had tuned to the right frequency to find it and translate it to the rest of us.
Lost Madonna of the Wasps,
I wonder where we crossed
I wonder why she lost me
Lost Madonna of the Wasps
She’s dying in the frost
I wonder what she cost me
I mean, right here, it’s already the greatest thing ever, right down to Robyn singing “madonn-er” (which Neko Case also did in her cover), and sure, it doesn’t necessarily make linear sense? But you know what does make linear sense? That eternal question asked by the chorus.
Is this love?
Is this love?
Each one of those is backed by Metcalfe’s bass thrumming and Windsor pounding on his toms. And in fact, that question is answered before even the second chorus.
Gone Madonna of the swans
She waves a magic wand
And then she settles on me
Wise Madonna of the flies
I look into her eyes
And then she recognize me
Damn straight it’s love, and every single ounce of that love is poured into an absolutely tremendous — and incredibly simple — guitar solo that is equally as singable as the rest of the song, and underpinned by an overwhelmingly lovely overdub of “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” that is sublime beyond belief, matching just about any moment in any song ever world with end amen.
Needless to say, “Madonna of The Wasps” was the highlight the second time I saw Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians, which was at the Oakland Coliseum opening up for R.E.M. on their Green tour in March 14, 1989. If I remember correctly, Peter Buck was onstage for much of the Egyptians set, and, even without Buck, they were still as perfect of an opening act for R.E.M. as could be imagined. I also recall going to an in-store at what I think was the Tower Records in the Stonestown Mall in San Francisco, which might have been the same day, or the day before or after?
I’m stalling here, trying to think of something to close it, but because I play the songs over and over and over while I’m writing these, maybe I’m stalling just to listen to it a few more times.
As has Robyn, as “Madonna of the Wasps” is an utter perennial in his sets, showing up in multiple live versions and at least one studio re-recordings over the years.
“Madonna of the Wasps”
“Madonna of the Wasps” Official Music Video
“Madonna of the Wasps” Live on Letterman, 1989
“Madonna of the Wasps” Live on KEXP, 2017
Madonna of the Wasps, Live in SF, March 2020
Neko Case – “Madonna of the Wasps”
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