Sunday, October 26, 2014
Two Steps From the Middle Ages - Game Theory
Enigma Records 7 73350-1
I only recently learned of Scott Miller's death last year from a fellow blogger (thanks, reselect.com.) If there was any justice in pop music, Miller would have been on the cover of "Rolling Stone" when he died. I think he was one of the great talents of his generation and his bands Game Theory and the Loud Family made a lot of music that I treasure and which hardly anyone ever heard. Game Theory's album "Lolita Nation" got great reviews but it didn't sell much and as a result became a pricey rarity for power pop aficionados. Miller never got his due, on this record you might notice that it is producer Mitch Easter whose name is on the promotional sticker on the cover of the album. I myself did not discover Game Theory until the 1990s by which time they had broken up. This was the first Game Theory album that I bought (on CD) and later I was lucky enough to find a sealed copy on vinyl. It was the final Game Theory album and some fans dismiss it as being weaker than the others, but I'm not in that camp. Sure it is not as great as "Lolita Nation" but what is? This album thrilled me when I first heard it and I still love it. The album kicks off with the high energy "Room for One More, Honey" which is driven by a big drum beat and jangly guitars in the best power pop tradition. It is sung by Miller and guitarist Donnette Thayer whose voices complement each other well. The song takes place on a plane with a couple immigrating to Asia and wondering what lies ahead. "What the Whole World Wants" sounds very 80s with its big drums and synth sound. Miller's sneering vocal expresses dissatisfaction with everyday life and its expectations. "The Picture of Agreeability" is a short song featuring only piano and synthesizer in which Miller expresses a desire to conform and not be viewed as a disappointment. "Amelia, Have You Lost" is a beautiful song in which Miller describes a disintegrating relationship. His high, sensitive vocal is extremely expressive. The man was a terrific singer with a voice that conveys sadness as well as anyone in alternative rock. There are some lovely guitar lines in this song as well. Next is the wonderfully titled "Rolling with the Moody Girls" which is a supremely catchy and poppy song, one of my favorites on the record. Miller sings about the rich girls of the title who are home from boarding school ready to make trouble. A verse from the song provides the album with its title. "Wyoming" is another one of my favorites, actually one of my favorite Game Theory songs period. It is an evocative bit of jangle pop sung as a duet by Miller and Thayer. The lyrics examine the complex relationship between growth and missing what one leaves behind. I love the line "I know that every night you lie and stare at the ceiling till you start believing it's the sky." Among his many talents, Miller was also an outstanding lyricist. The side ends with the infectious power pop song, "In a Delorean." This fast-tempo tune gets me bopping big time and the chorus is pure pop bliss worthy of the Go-Gos. The lyrics examine youthful folly and learning from one's mistakes. This track is also one of my faves. Side two features more bouncy power pop with "You Drive" which is a song about lost youth and growing up. "Leilani" name checks Donovan, Douglas Fairbanks and Clint Eastwood in a song about a girl living a theatrical, make-believe life. It is a slow jangle pop song with a Beatlesque feel to it. "Wish I Could Stand or Have" expresses conflicted feelings about being dependent on a lover. The song features acoustic guitar prominently in its sound and a raga rock guitar solo that makes it stand out among the 80s style music on the rest of the record. It is another one of the best tracks on the record. The synthesizer and big drums are back for "Don't Entertain Me Twice" which dissects a troubled relationship with a deceitful, thrill-seeking woman. The bitter invective and word play in the lyrics are worthy of Elvis Costello. Organ drives "Throwing the Election" instead of the usual synthesizer much to my approval. It is a brilliant song in which Miller uses an array of metaphors to convey disillusionment with his lot in life and a messed up relationship. Great stuff. The album ends with "Initiations Week" which features just acoustic guitar and a high, quavery vocal from Miller. It is quiet, delicate music in counterpoint to lyrics expressing seething resentment and rebellion. This is such a terrific record, it is smart, charming and endlessly appealing musically. Miller could toss out hooks with seemingly effortless ease and invested his music with genuine emotion. In a crappy musical decade that featured a lot of formulaic music, superficial glitz and crass commercialism, Game Theory's music shines like a beacon with its intelligence, integrity and insight. Recommended to fans of the dB's and Let's Active.