Tuesday, April 7, 2015

REVIEW: The Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ

I suspect the reaction of some who learn that the latest album from The Mountain Goats, Beat the Champ, is a concept album about professional wrestling is "what the hell?"   Let's see, a band known to release concept albums and named after the noble and testosterone-charged horned beast of the mountains, who must defend his turf from invasion by climbers and hunters, records their 17th album about the testosterone-charged morality play that was post-WWII professional wrestling?  I say 'it's about time, John Darnielle, it's about time!'

Apparently, Mr. Darnielle was a fan of professional wrestling growing up, and was enthralled and entertained by the good versus evil presented by the athletes.  While Beat the Champ is more about the wrestling John (and from time to time, this writer) watched in his youth than the current version, it is no thumbnail history of sport.  In the adept storyteller's hands, impressions of the wrestlers' lives and motivations, challenges and hardships, dangers and triumphs, are woven with other details of life both large and small in scope, and washed with the colors of mythology.  It is a vividly drawn work, and you can hear the crowd, smell the sweat, feel the fear, sense the desperation -- just consider the song titles, including "Stabbed Outside of San Juan" (about a real incident), "Choked Out", "Heel Turn 2", "Hair Match", "Animal Mask", "The Ballad of Bull Ramos", and "Werewolf Gimmick".  More importantly, you can feel the appreciation of, and even need for, heroes; heroes whose imperfections and out-of-the-ring failures are irrelevant when they don their costumes and play out the muscular theater of pro wrestling.

The professional wrestling of Darnielle's youth may be gone, but Beat the Champ is like an aural version of a graphic novel for the sport, and for exploring life.  Jump into the ring -- is is thrilling, exciting and, most of all, sounds wonderful.

The Mountain Goats, in addition to John Darnielle, are Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster.  Beat the Champ is out today on Merge Records.

Merge Records page for Beat the Champ

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