Album Review: The Mountain Goats – “Beat The Champ”

The Mountain Goats
Beat The Champ
(Merge Records)

The Mountain Goats are a band that I’ve always heard really good things about from friends but never actually listened to. For whatever reason, I could never find what seemed like a good “jumping in point” in their discography. Thankfully, I read a press release about their new album Beat The Champ and its pro wrestling-centered lyrics and I dove in head first.

Prior to hearing the record, I kind of had an idea what to expect, as I really enjoy their cover of Steely Dan’s “FM,” as well as the song “Up Come The Wolves,” which I heard on an episode of The Walking Dead. The band’s style, for the most part, can be classified as indie rock/folk, but the music on Beat The Champ is hardly what you’d pigeonhole exclusively into either genre. There’s a little bit of jazz (“Fire Editorial”), punk (“Choked Out”), Americana (“Stabbed to Death outside San Juan”) and also tracks like “Foreign Object” and “The Ballad Of Bull Ramos,” which rumble with catchy, creative rhythms all their own.

As amazing as the music on this record is, I think the true selling point on the album is the lyrics. Admittedly, there are moments on this album when the lyrics sound more like thinly-veiled analogies and references to much deeper, darker stuff than being simply about wrestling. The one that particularly chokes me up is “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero,” which features the line “He was my hero back when I was a kid. You let me down, but Chavo never once did. You called him names to try to get beneath my skin. Now your ashes are scattered on the wind.” After listening to the song a few times, I started to cringe when I heard that line, because it is clearly a reference to something more deep-seated and impacting that I believe I can relate to 100%. I also enjoy the duality that appears present in the lyrics of “Animal Mask” and “Heel Turn 2.” Another of the album’s magical moments is the track “Werewolf Gimmick,” which features a frenetic drum pattern that sets an amazing tone and lyrics that tell a kick ass story.

Beat The Champ is an album that has the very rare distinction to me, as being one that I know for sure I’ll be listening to for years to come. It makes me an emotional mess sometimes; it makes me kinda wanna punch a wall at times. Mostly it is just an incredible piece of music that is cool if you like the wrestling references and catchy songs, but even more rewarding if you want something to counteract a myriad of depressing emotions. (Brandon Ringo)

Purchase Beat The Champ here.

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