Music News & Reviews

CD review: ‘Beat the Champ’

Pro wrestling is album inspiration

Like a good short-story writer, the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle possesses a sharp eye for characters in crisis. He often builds albums from concepts: Bible verses (“The Life of the World to Come”), an unraveling marriage (“Tallahassee”) or his own troubled childhood (“The Sunset Tree”). His narrators grapple with frustration or anger, but his songs convey hope and affirmation.

On “Beat the Champ,” Darnielle turns his attention to early 1980s professional wrestlers from Texas and the fans who followed them (himself included). It’s an album full of thwarted ambitions and narrow idealism, of faded heroes and heroic fantasies, of violence and blood. With bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster, Darnielle constructs gently orchestrated ballads (“Southwestern Territory”), frenetic acoustic punk (“Choked Out”), and jazzy piano tunes (“Fire Editorial”). Typical of the Mountain Goats, the songs are intimate, empathetic, and, by turns, urgent or tender.

Steve Klinge/Philadelphia Inquirer


The Mountain Goats

Beat the Champ