For lovers of professional and emotional wrestling, The Mountain Goats new album Beat The Champ uses frontman Josh Darnielle’s childhood passion to craft an album that will put you in a choke-slam. The album, focused on tragedy and missed chances through the concept of wrestling, uses a not so complex outlet of the potentially forgotten wrestlers from Darnielle’s past. With the classic hard strumming acoustics coming from Darnielle’s 6-string, this album is laden with that old Mountain Goats sound that we’ve all come to love throughout the years.
When you look into Darnielle and The Mountain Goats’ past source material, ranging from strategy gaming to extreme metal, it comes as no surprise that he pulls off the wrestling motif with ease. The only difference here is that the wisdom and experience of Darnielle’s age pays off in this retrospective. The opening “Southwestern Territory” is laced with jazzy vibes that mask the overall tone and energy of the album. The title track “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” comes in with a flying elbow of rock proportions, mixing jangly electric guitars with Darnielle’s iconic acoustic strumming. The song itself is wickedly melodic and its chorus is quite possibly the catchiest moment on the whole album. With a storyline just as captivating, “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” is the perfect symbolism of the old wrestler grappling with villains, as Darnielle struggled to handle life’s villainous twists and turns.
The rest of the album floats between the fast paced folk-punk songs like “Choked Out” and flows perfectly into the slower paced ballads like “Heel Turn 2.” The track focuses on complacency and being your own worst enemy in the ring and in life, ending with a beautiful piano solo building off the melody of the song. Songs like “The Ballad of Bull Ramos” continues the upbeat folky feel of the album, with songs like “Unmasked!” playing it’s counterpart to keep the tone of the whole album level.
Beat The Champ ends on a somber but strong note with “Hair Match”, which brings the overall arc of the work together in a blend of emotions involving both this world and the imaginative past of his childhood heroes. Each song on Beat The Champ paints a gruesome but beautiful portrait as the album ebbs and flows harmoniously. This album might not go down as a pure classic, but it should be appreciated as one that took a worthy risk.