As The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle has proved literate to the point of hyper-literacy on such records as Transcendental Youth and All Eternals Deck (QRO review), all verbiage and acoustic guitar, sometimes in a concept album (such as The Life of the World To Come – QRO review). It can all get a bit much, go over one’s head, but he’s grounded himself well in the world of professional wrestling with Beat the Champ.
While the ‘sport’ is best known for gaudy outfits, lower-class appeal, and characters like Hulk Hogan & The Undertaker, there is also a long line of fans from the more egg-headed side of the tracks, such as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart kneeing Seth Rollins in the groin on a recent Monday Night Raw, or songwriters like Bob Mould & Billy Corgan writing scripts for professional wrestling (and don’t forget about the movie The Wrestler reviving Mickey Rourke’s career). Darnielle explores the life of professional wrestlers in quiet, intimate pieces like “Southwestern Territory”, “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan”, “Luna”, “Unmasked!”, and closer “Hair Match”. But there are also more driving numbers – “Heel Turn 2” is the bitter tale of the life of the professional heel, while “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” is just a great story of a great legend told by his number one fan.
John Darnielle’s verbosity and acoustic guitar work has taken him many places while always staying within his wheelhouse, and while Beat the Champ doesn’t sound like it ventures to far afield in style, the wrestling motif – and deeper exploration of its world – makes for a record that both holds together better and goes down easier.