the Mountain Goats Announce New Album Beat The Champ + Share “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”
Let me start by saying this write-up will not be the least bit objective. I love the hell out of this band. That said, I was a bit taken aback when I heard John Darnielle had written an album about professional wrestling. It’s not that he’d made any secret about his love for the sport (or form of entertainment? I’m nowhere near athletic enough to know if pro wrestling is considered a sport). I’d even caught one of the songs I assume will be on this album live last year when he played Portland (the song’s “Southwestern Territory“) where he laid out his passion for it. Still, it took hearing this new song and reading what he’s said about this forthcoming release for it to click. Here are Darnielle’s own words on the album from the Merge website:
Beat the Champ is about professional wrestling, which was an avenue of escape for me when I was a kid. Wrestling was low-budget working class entertainment back then, strictly UHF material. It was cheap theater. You had to bring your imagination to the proceedings and you got paid back double. I wrote these songs to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I’m grown.
He also wrote about this over at his Tumblr.
All that glory. All that shine. Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms. Some people might be thinking to themselves, JD, wrestling, I don’t know, I’ve never really been into wrestling, but did I steer you wrong with the Bible album, even though you may not have been super-into the Bible? Fear not. In a world of false promises and hollow gimmicks, please rest assured that the old maxim still holds true, whether scrawled on the back of a claim check or carved into a bench in an abandoned locker room: you can’t trust much, but you can trust the Mountain Goats.
He’s got a damned good point. I was skeptical when he released an album based on bible verses (The Life of the World to Come) and that turned out incredible. So, our first (recorded) listen to the album is “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero.” I can’t say it grabbed me immediately like some previous tMG songs, but it has grown on me over a few listens throughout the day. There’s as simple, straight-forward charm to it. The tune has these subtle underpinings of what Darnielle is talking about though: that idea of using these wrestlers as a getaway… “I need justice in my life / here it comes.” I’m looking forward to hearing more, which will hopefully be before the album is out April 7th via Merge. In the meantime, you can listen to “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” on repeat below along with some live versions of other songs that’ll likely end up on the album. Also worth noting: the band is touring starting in April (after playing Sketchfest in San Francisco at the end of the month). You can check out the dates here.
Here’s a list (from r/theMountainGoats‘ user professionalecho) of some live versions of songs thought to be on the album:
“The Ballad of Bull Ramos” (Live at Merge 25)
“Choked Out” (Live at Merge 25)
“Animal Mask” (Live at Newport Folk Festival)
“Southwestern Territory” (Live in Houston, TX)