REVIEW: The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ

3.5 OUT OF 5 NUTS!

Beat the ChampJohn Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has always been one to milk beautiful melodies out of unorthodox situations. Whether he’s exploring the lives of tweakers or recalling his own teenage search for meaning at the bottom of a bottle, Darnielle’s gift has always been to see the epic heroism in seemingly small activities, elevating his story-songs to mythic proportions until they function more as archetypes than things that could happen to people we know.

Fittingly, the group (a revolving door of musicians in the past which has currently gelled into the trio of Darnielle, bass player Peter Hughes, and Superchunk drummer John Wurster) has already tackled the Bible. Now, for whatever reason, they turn their attention to the world of wrestling.

Because, why not? Art is about being surprising, and I don’t think any of us expected Darnielle and company to do this. Ghostface Killa might be prone to releasing a wrestling-themed album (he probably already has), but bespectacled, diminutive Darnielle doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to sing the praises of steroid cases.

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Equally surprising is the amount of melancholy and pathos Darnielle is able to inject into the proceedings. From the klezmir-eque horns of the opening number, “Southwestern Territory,” the record is able to capture the feel of smoky rooms filled with quasi-tragic contenders. It’s definitely a love letter to a bygone era, less directly personal than an album like 2005’s The Sunset Tree, but still filtered through Darnielle’s unique perspective. For every element of hero worship, there’s a warts-and-all detail to bring things back to reality. This attention to detail is ultimately the redeeming factor in an album that sometimes suffers from too much fidelity to the premise of wrestling. Perhaps a concept album about wrestling was just a bit too ambitious to work completely. The Mountain Goats certainly nearly sell the whole thing, however, and it’s very enjoyable listening to them try.

The Mountain Goats “Beat the Champ” Release Date: April 13, 2015

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