The Mountain Goats
Beat the Champ
John Darnielle has been writing literate, slice-of-life songs for The Mountain Goats for over 20 years; songs dealing with abusive step-parents, character studies of couples on the edge of divorce, and even an album about the Bible.
Finally Darnielle is writing about something important, the human chess match that is professional wrestling.
On the surface, Beat the Champ shouldn’t really work, with the visceral and physical world of wrestling having little to do with the mannered world of indie rock, but Darnielle pulls it off, creating a set of literate, memorable songs dealing with different aspects of the early years of regional wrestling. Songs like “Legend of Chavo Guerrero” demonstrate the importance of heroism and escape to a kid with an abusive stepfather, while “Animal Mask” and “Heel Turn” are melancholy reflections on a life lived in locker rooms and hotels waiting for the few moments a night to come alive and perform as your body slowly breaks down.
Beat the Champ isn’t all melancholy and misery, however. “Choked Out” is a driving, acoustic song about pushing your body to the limit, and “Foreign Object,” with a pulsing horn line, is an ode to cheaters and rulebreakers that will have the chorus, “gonna stab you in the eye with a foreign object” lodged in listener’s brains like, well, like a foreign object.
Beat the Champ rewards repeated listens, taken as a whole the album is a memorable exploration of the world of professional wrestling, with all the physicality, history, and emotion involved.