Music Review: Game Theory, Blaze Of Glory (Reissue)

Published on September 5th, 2014 in: Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan

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Scott Miller wrote and sang some of the most innovative, intelligent, moving indie pop of the past three decades. For years, though, the Game Theory catalog has been impossible to hear, keeping the work of this essential artist out of reach of all but the most devoted fans. Miller’s tragic passing in April 2013 galvanized efforts to change that, and America’s finest reissue label rode to the rescue. At long last, 1982’s Blaze Of Glory is back, with a bevy of bonus goodies, and it’s a harbinger of even bigger things to come.

Game Theory was just one of Miller’s bands—he’d previously founded Alternate Learning, and would later go on to form The Loud Family—but it’s indisputably the most legendary. Founded in Davis, CA, the band evolved from its predecessor and emanates power pop, paisley underground and psychedelia influenced sounds. But the songwriting goes far beyond that description. Layered, dense lyrics, turn-on-a-dime tempo shifts, unexpected key changes, and Miller’s gorgeous tenor, all set this well apart from your bog-standard 1980s college rock.

The foundation of the Blaze Of Glory reissue rests on the original album itself, and a wonderful thing it is. Glory contains several early Game Theory classics, like “Bad Year At UCLA,” “Mary Magdalene,” “Sleeping Through Heaven,” “The Girls Are Ready To Go” and many others.

The songs are endearingly cerebral, with clever wordplay and literary references, a young man’s unfocused yearning, trying perhaps a pinch too hard to impress, but impress he does. It almost feels like he thinks this is the only record he’ll ever get to make, so he’s trying to get an entire career crammed into one album.

The band is tight indeed; Fred Juhos’s bass, Mike Irwin’s drumming and Nan Becker’s keyboards all sound spectacular in the remastered disc. Becker and Juhos both provide key harmonies as well, and future GT member Donnette Thayer also contributes backing vocals on one track.

Ordinarily, just doing a fine reissue would be enough. But it’s Omnivore we’re talking about here, so there are actually more bonus tracks on the CD than there are original tracks—an impressive 15 more. Indeed, the second half of the package could easily stand on its own as a must-have Game Theory rarities album. Four ultra-rare Alternate Learning tracks are presented here as a glimpse into Miller’s pre-Game Theory band (you’ll have a particularly challenging record store adventure locating the originals; write and keep us posted if you find them!)

Beyond those riches comes still more: eleven tracks from Scott Miller’s personal archive, never before issued. These cover everything from live versions of “Bad Year At UCLA” and a cover of the Twinkeyz’ “Aliens In Our Midst” to priceless home demos of Miller on his own, making music and conducting…interesting audio experiments. At one point, he sets the record on fire. It’s sequenced with love for maximum amusement effect; you won’t want to miss it.

The 24-page booklet contains interviews with multiple former Game Theory band members, tour manager Dan Vallor (who co-produced this set with Pat Thomas and Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski), and the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn. The grief and shock of Miller’s passing was still very fresh when these interviews were conducted, and you can feel it in the reminiscences.

For all his compositional sophistication and grand ambitions, the equipment and resources at hand could be stretched only so far. The adorable dot-matrix cover art reflects both the era of the album’s original release and the original production budget (it was mostly recorded in his old childhood bedroom, after all). Miller fans and lovers of DIY music will find that naïve charm wonderful, but in hindsight, especially in the post-Lolita Nation years, the artist himself didn’t always share that enthusiasm. In 1993, Miller issued the aptly named Distortion Of Glory, a CD reissue in which he remixed and re-recorded much of the album, but this is the first time we’ve been able to enjoy the real deal.

Omnivore will be reissuing other Game Theory titles soon, including the legendary Lolita Nation, so stay tuned.

“I want to go bang on every door and say “Wake up, you’re sleeping through heaven,” Miller sings. Too many people slept through Game Theory’s brief time as a band. Don’t miss this chance to hear them again.

Blaze Of Glory was reissued by Omnivore Recordings on September 2.

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