Beat the Champ is the fifteenth studio album by the Mountain Goats, released on April 7, 2015 on Merge Records. The release is a concept album on professional wrestling, though frontman John Darnielle has stated that several of its songs are "really more about death and difficult-to-navigate interior spaces than wrestling."
The album was announced by Merge on January 20, 2015, after which the second track, "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero," was released for streaming on the label's SoundCloud page. Shortly afterwards it became available for pre-order, where the large number of orders caused the site to crash.
The second single, and sixth track of the album, titled "Heel Turn 2" was released on Merge Records' SoundCloud page on February 28, 2015. The following day, it officially premiered on an episode of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale.
The album was released in Australia and New Zealand on April 3, 2015 on Merge Records and distributed by Remote Control Records, in the United States and Canada on April 7, 2015 on Merge Records, and in Europe on April 13, 2015 on Merge Records.
Beat the Champ received largely positive reviews from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 79, based on 24 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".
Several critics praised Beat the Champ for providing an accessible interpretation of professional wrestling, such that listeners not interested in the sport could still enjoy the album. Writing for Exclaim!, Jer Fairall called the record "yet another highlight in a career overflowing with them," in large part due to the group's "sonic adventurousness, matched with Darnielle's singular presence as a storyteller and a songwriter."
All tracks written and composed by John Darnielle
- "Southwestern Territory" - 4:14
- "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" - 3:00
- "Foreign Object" - 2:51
- "Animal Mask" - 2:54
- "Choked Out" - 1:42
- "Heel Turn 2" - 5:58
- "Fire Editorial" - 3:22
- "Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan" - 3:48
- "Werewolf Gimmick" - 2:34
- "Luna" - 3:27
- "Unmasked!" - 3:28
- "The Ballad of Bull Ramos" - 2:53
- "Hair Match" - 5:40
- "Blood Capsules" - 3:25
- "Dub Capsules" - 4:05
- John Darnielle – acoustic guitar, vocals, piano, keyboards, lyrics, composition
- Peter Hughes – bass, electric guitar
- Jon Wurster – drums, percussion
- Brad Cook – vocals
- Phil Cook – organ, vocals
- Matt Douglas – woodwind, woodwind arrangement
- Erik Friedlander – strings, string arrangement
- Nathan Golub – steel guitar
- Austin Nevins – guitar
- Rob Carmichael – graphic design, typography
- Leela Corman – cover illustration, additional illustrations
- Brandon Eggleston – producer
- Brent Lambert –audio mastering
- Scott Solter – additional production, mixing