Although it incorporates such time-honored traditions as sadism, diluted porn, brutality, satanic majesties, and plain old-fashioned yelling, the current pro wrestling scene is a new, disturbed universe unto itself. In the same way, the burgeoning genre of wrestling music is its own fascinatingly grotesque beast; it doesn’t conform to any known standards of taste or sense.
Don’t doubt that it is a genre, as proven by two new reissues. During this dubious sport’s mid-’80s boom, Sony released The Wrestling Album, on which the timbre-challenged likes of Captain Lou Albano and ”Rowdy” Roddy Piper sang their biceps out. The 1985 album (just out on CD for the first time) was clearly a disposable joke, yet producers Rick Derringer and Jim Steinman made sure the tracks were slick and hooky, and Junk Yard Dog’s double-entendre funk novelty ”Grab Them Cakes” is, in retrospect, the precursor to South Park‘s ”Chocolate Salty Balls.” And on what other album can one find a future governor posing in feather boas and pink jacket, and acting as its barking between-song commentator?
Wrestlemania: The Album, a 1993 release to be reissued March 9, boasts a similar party-music vibe, with tracks that unabashedly tap into the in-vogue Miami-bass hip-hop sound. But the album ultimately hits the mat thanks to its white-bread-rap arrangements (the chirpy Wrestlemania theme and ”Nasty Boys Stomp,” which sounds suspiciously like Janet Jackson’s ”Nasty”) and the painful rhyming and singing of Bret ”Hitman” Hart and the Undertaker, which won’t bruise anything but your ears.
Silly or exploitative as those albums were, they did contain a certain musicality. The same can’t be said of their late-’90s successors, led by the World Wrestling Federation’s WWF: The Music series. Volume 3, which has pummeled its way into Billboard‘s top 20, is a collection of ”arena entrance songs” — the primarily instrumental head-crunching riffs and beats blared as each wrestler struts into the ring. With a few exceptions — X-Pac’s rap about ”brass knuckles in your face” or Dude Love’s mock-disco Bee Gees parody — the prevailing motif is what could be called Judas Tesh: gothic-metal guitar riffs accompanied by less-than-heavenly choirs, relentless and unwavering. Well, not completely unwavering: For variety’s sake, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s theme adds the sounds of breaking glass!
The problem isn’t the use of metal per se, it’s that this isn’t good metal. From its seemingly low-rent production, the album sounds as if it were recorded in a make-your-own-demo booth in the lobby of one of the arenas. Then again, WWF is downright hair-raising compared with Slammin’ Wrestling Hits, which features covers of many of the same entrance themes but in wimpier, synth-pumped arrangements. It’s an even lower grade of cheese. In a way, though, both WWF: The Music and Slammin’ Wrestling Hits are metaphors for the inherent contradictions in the current wrestling scene. It’s both more nihilistic and more cartoonish, more visceral yet more up-front about its fakery. On both small screen and record, pro wrestling speaks loudly but carries a small stick.
The Wrestling Album: C+
WWF: The Music Volume 3: C-
Slammin’ Wrestling Hits: D