Is this record great because it’s exclusively about professional wrestling? Is this record great because it’s just great? Is this record great because it’s a great record exclusively about professional wrestling? It’s great, alright, and this isn’t a phoney conjecture.
Beat the Champ is the umpteenth album by the Durham-based band The Mountain Goats since their conception in 1991, and the umpteenth-plus-some album of the prolific John Darnielle, founder of the band and dabbler in exquisite “lo-fi indie folk rock”.
The album starts with the gentle ‘Southwestern Territory’, before blossoming with the endearing chirp of ‘The Legend of Chavo Guerrero’. The latter track unveils Darnielle’s love for the titular championship wrestler, whilst alluding to some of the more tender aspects of his childhood which cemented Guerrero as a hero. With more emotional layers than an orge and an onion, the optimistic pop vibes of the track betray its depth, with this contradiction only magnifying the beauty of the album’s highlight track.
‘Foreign Object’ discusses violence in a candid, almost comical manner. This lyrical approach combined with jaunty brass and rhythmic sing-alongs, gives the track a laugh-out-loud characteristic. Perhaps some criticism for trivialising violence should be interjected, but given the nature of the sport in question, it’s best to simply sing along loudly whilst cheering or jeering as appropriate.
Conversely ‘Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan’ is appropriately serious as the exposed vocals and stabbing instrumentation helps to convey a grave atmosphere. This is followed by the ferocious ‘Werewolf Gimmick’, which with unrelenting drumming portrays the brutality of the character in question and as with all the tracks flawlessly captures the intended emotional impact in musical form.
The closing trio of tracks in ‘Unmasked!’, ‘The Ballad of Bull Ramos’ and ‘Hair Match’ all fall under the aforementioned umbrella of “indie folk rock” in some capacity. Whilst the penultimate track strikes a tone of immediacy, the other two are slow-paced and tender. The closing track brings Darnielle’s ode to a childhood, and probable adulthood, obsession in charming style, complete with slow-picked guitar and woodwind flourishes.
Perhaps something that could be considered as a collection of love songs dedicated to professional wrestling, and those who inspired the dreams of a young Darnielle, Beat the Champ is a thoroughly enjoyable record. For fans of the The Mountain Goats, professional wrestling, or ideally both, it offers a fan’s musical insight to the magic and reality of the sport – the high calibre musical compositions complimenting these observations simply make it more incredible to behold.