Game Theory – Blaze of Glory

Scott Miller spent the ‘80s creating brilliant college rock with Game Theory, and then he spent the ‘90s creating brilliant college rock with The Loud Family, and then he went into the new millennium being forced to use the Loud Family name for a shared 2006 pop project with Anton Barbeau before compiling some brilliant rock criticism in a 2010 book called Music: What Happened?

Then he killed himself in April of 2013. That was probably foreshadowed by Loud Family titles like “Slit My Wrists” and “Deee-Pression.” (“Fit of deee-pression right now!”) Also, Miller wrote that brilliant rock criticism, which probably reminded him that he’d spent his life as a musician getting acclaim from hacks who couldn’t match his talents in either field.

The good news is that Omnivore Recordings is now producing an archival series looking back at the greatness of Scott Miller – and it begins with some serious digging, since Scott Miller was never a fan of his earliest work. This take on Blaze of Glory is the first proper reissue of a lot of the songs here, with Miller always insisting on re-recording earlier tracks for Game Theory compilations.

Blaze of Glory is still a fine start, even if there aren’t any new discoveries from the original 1982 album. The band’s leader couldn’t have felt that any of these recordings were overly quirky or intellectual. The big shame for Miller was probably seeing his early prog-rock instincts represented by trendy synth sounds.

Those keyboards still can’t keep Blaze of Glory from holding up as a promising debut with moments of solid greatness. Longtime fans won’t be surprised that the standout tracks remain revisited classics like “Bad Year at UCLA” and “Something to Show” – but there’s a lot to recommend the frantic “White Blues” and the gloriously adolescent “Date With An Angel.”

We’re talking at least five important moments worth archiving just as a look at the Davis, California scene of the early ’80s. (Miller’s contemporaries were bands like Thin White Rope and Rain Parade.) Then things get more interesting with plentiful bonus tracks that include four songs from Miller’s earlier days fronting Alternate Learning. The heady “Beach State Rocking” was known to GT fans, but the cynical folk-prog musing of “The New You” has been overdue for a proper showcase.

Scott Miller might have still tried to talk you out of buying this album. He would’ve had a sense of humor about it, though. Blaze of Glory remains a stellar start to a reissue series – with the bonus of young Miller already writing convoluted lyrics that would’ve rivaled Michael Stipe if Game Theory had ever gotten that big.

And, as noted, this is only the beginning. By the time that you’re reading this, there’s already been a Record Store Day vinyl reissue of the Game Theory EPs Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion. Pretty much all of those songs are also on Omnivore’s CD reissue of the French compilation Dead Center, along with plenty of bonus tracks that include a live “Radio Free Europe.”

There’ll be a lot more excitement about the upcoming albums that Miller looked back on with less self-deprecation: Real Nighttime, The Big Shot Chronicles, and the indulgent 1987 masterpiece of Lolita Nation. Maybe we’ll even get a reissue of 1988’s Two Steps from the Middle Ages, which wrapped up Game Theory at their best.

You should also look up more about the Loud Family at your local library. It’s less recommended that you spend your life writing brilliant albums of smart college-rock that never build more than a cult following. If you know anybody who has, don’t dissuade them from being kind of blustery and bitter about the experience. The alternative may be worse. Alex Chilton, all is forgiven.

Game Theory
Blaze of Glory