For whatever reason, the third superb full-length record from Game Theory, 1986's The Big Shot Chronicles, is getting reissued by Omnivore Recordings after the label has already out the fourth record from the band, 1987's Lolita Nation. Okay, whatever. I don't care why it's coming out out of order 'cause, you know what? It's an awesome record. As the liner notes hint, there's a whole bunch of folks who think this record is better than the band's much-praised fourth album and I might be one of those people. This is pure power pop heaven, guys, and now it's been augmented with 13 bonus cuts, including 9 which have never been released before now.
Stuff like "Here It Is Tomorrow" and the all-too-brief "I've Tried Subtlety" crunch in all the right ways, the Mitch Easter production bringing out every single little hook the late Scott Miller poured into these cuts. "Erica's Word" is similarly chiming, and a sort of odd alt-rock standard from an era when this sort of music was called college rock more often than not. And, really, who would appreciate the chirpy pop of something like "Make Any Vow" more than a brainy college kid? The chords just flow on this record and The Big Shot Chronicles is an album that just doesn't stop as lyrical and musical ideas collide and explode in each track. There's little wasted here as even the quiet moments -- "The Book Of Millionaires", for example, and the absolutely essential "Like A Girl Jesus" -- shine like those tracks on side 2 of Murmur or side 2 of Reckoning. If Miller seemed more comfortable writing big hooks, he was of a same mindset as those more famous cats in the Mitch Easter-produced R.E.M. when it came to the slower numbers, favoring mood over literal meaning at times.
Sure, some of this remains inscrutable -- the lovely "Regenisraen", right? -- but so much of it just punches a listener in the gut with wonderfulness. Generations of bands since this release have tried to replicate this sort of power-pop with some success -- The Pursuit Of Happiness, Fountains of Wayne, The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Tommy Keene -- but very few of those artists had an intellect like Scott Miller at the helm of the endeavor. Miller brought a real sense of of wit to things that put him on par with Elvis Costello in some ways. Perhaps not as direct in his songwriting as Mr. MacManus, Miller, instead, put a high premium on being clever for clever's sake but he never seemed to be annoying while doing it. And he always -- always -- wrapped the wit inside a big, big hook.
Of the bonus cuts on this edition of The Big Shot Chronicles (1986) out Friday via Omnivore Recordings, the notable numbers are the covers more so than the demo recordings. If the world didn't need another cover of "Sweet Jane" even in 1986, then at least Miller made the song sound like one he might have written, his delivery being that inspired. Elsewhere, there's a fun take on "Linus And Lucy" from those "Peanuts" TV specials which sits nicely next to a fine stab at "Couldn't I Just Tell You?" from Todd Rundgren. A live run at Roxy Music's "Re-Make/Re-Model" is fun if not essential and a live take of "Friend Of The Family" from 1985's Real Nighttime serves to showcase what a great band Game Theory was in this era. Scott Miller, Gil Ray, Shelley LaFreniere, and Suzi Ziegler were really at the top of their game here.
Look, 1987's Lolita Nation gets all the attention -- double album and all -- but the truth is this record is every bit as good, if not better, in some ways. More concise, the music here just surges and soars without a single dead moment. The folks at Omnivore Recordings have done a great job again with yet another Game Theory reissue and this time out the liner notes seem to reveal a bit more details on the band with the interview with drummer Gil Ray being particularly revealing in terms of sharing how the magic happened. For those reasons, I'd urge any fan of Scott Miller and Game Theory to grab this version of the band's most essential release, if I can be so bold as to even term it that.
The Big Shot Chronicles from Game Theory will be out on Friday via Omnivore Recordings.
[Photo: Robert Toren]