Vinyl Review: Game Theory – Blaze Of Glory (Omnivore Release)
I bought a Game Theory album the other day and I’m still in a little bit in shock over it.
That’s because, up until this month, the entirety of Game Theory’s discography had been sadly out of print, making it nearly impossible for new generations to listen to and discover the band, who are one of the great unheralded heroes of the early “college rock” scene of the 1980s. Sadly, Game Theory’s lone consistent member and primary songwriter Scott Miller (a fucking genius by the way) passed away last year, and he never got to see his albums find a new audience thanks to all that bullshit.
But no more!
Thanks to the wonderful Onnivore Recordings, Game Theory’s albums are now finally re-entering the world on vinyl, CD and even digitally – all newly remastered from the original tapes and complete with bonus tracks. Up first; the group’s original 1982 debut, Blaze Of Glory, which I’m pretty sure has been out-of-print and nearly forgotten for nearly 30 years now.
Fucking shame. This album is incredible. An impeccably-realized collection of infectious and catchy power pop mastery that are simultaneously slightly psychedelic and punk rock in nature, if that is at all possible (and I guess it is).
It’s also a very grandiose and complex record, one that beguiles its origins as an debut release by an unknown band on a minor label. Nearly every aspect of Blaze Of Glory (as well as every other album by Game Theory) makes it defy categorization – or even accurate description. I mean, can you think of another album with jangle-pop reminiscent of Big Star and blistering punk rock beats wrapped together with complex prog rock time signatures and some of the most wonderfully obtuse lyrics ever written? I feel like you could put a bunch of band names in a hat, pull three out at random, and have that be a somewhat accurate description of Game Theory’s sound (The Stranglers + Rush + Blue Swede? Yeah, I could see that). They’re that unique, little bits here and there remind you of other acts, but when you combine them all together the final result is something that sounds like nothing else before or since.
It’s the kind of music that makes me want to write about music better, which I think is probably the greatest compliment I could possibly give any album or band. I just feel under-qualified to talk about a song like “White Blues,” with its punk rock synthesizers and stutter-stop chorus and vindictive lyrics about a hateful college professor (I think?). I’d just come off like a plebeian offering commentary on international government affairs with only a few episodes of the West Wing as my learning material.
Probably the most simplistic songs on Blaze Of Glory are the love songs, but even they’re buried beneath layers of musical and lyrical idiosyncrasy that make them hard to decipher. The lovey-dovey sounding “Date With An Angel” begins like any love song, but quickly morphs into something else entirely with lyrics like “she doesn’t kiss me/she thinks it disgusting/oh I think it’s disgusting too” followed by angry defensive cries of their relationship not being wrong and “not to admit to anything at all.” It’s not just a love song about a woman who doesn’t love back (there are plenty of those), it’s a love song about a woman who doesn’t love back and a man who doesn’t really care either way – at least I think so, as I said, it’s hard to parse these songs out.
The closest that Game Theory get to a standard, crowed-pleasing power-pop on Blaze Of Glory is “Sleeping Through Heaven,” with its oddly out-of-place standard, floor-stomping beat and the rousing chorus of “I want to go bang on every door and say wake up you’re sleeping through heaven.” It’s a shockingly positive affirmation of life by a man whose lyrics were often bitter and passive-aggressive. Of course, even here the lyrics are slightly cynical; life is great, but most people don’t recognize it – kind of like Game Theory itself.
As I said before, the original pressing of this album has been out-of-print for almost my entire life, so I don’t have an original copy to compare this pressing too. I can say, though, that the hot pink vinyl edition sounds as fantastic as it looks, and the digital copy it comes with (complete with bonus tracks) has a great remaster that feels full and powerful without being overpowering or too loud.
If I had to find any fault with this release at all, it would probably be the bonus tracks. Most are culled from pre-Game Theory projects by Scott Miller, including his first band Alternative Leaning, and while they’re interesting time capsules and serve as further insight into the development of a musical genius, they just don’t hold a candle to the record. Still, when the biggest complaint I can lobby against an album is that its bonus tracks aren’t as amazing as the album proper, that’s pretty light criticism.
The only thing that stops me from calling Blaze Of Glory an unheralded masterpiece is that I’m saving such distinctions for latter Game Theory LPs. That being said, this is a damned beautiful record, and it’s a wonderful day now that new generations of music fans can freshly discover and appreciate it anew.
I just wish Scott was here to be able to appreciate it with you.