-- Game Theory
On a recent weekend, I spent an afternoon reading (for some grad-school research) about game theory. When my head was imploding and I needed a break, I put on some Game Theory.
The quirky, mildly psychedelic pop band from the '80s has been a personal touchstone for many years, and I'm sad to report today that Scott Miller, who led Game Theory and later the Loud Family, reportedly died this week at age 53. No cause of death was reported Wednesday.
As the headline in the UK's Guardian newspaper says, "Scott Miller may not be a household name, but his death lessens pop."
Miller not only wrote superb pop songs -- art-rock extensions of his beloved Big Star, often mixing Beatles and blues into a paisley underground daze -- he wrote expertly about music. A shining example of the auteur ideal, Miller made music that drew from an encyclopedic knowledge of pop, which is laid out in his self-published book, Music: What Happened? -- a year-by-year, song-by-song journey from 1957 to this decade, connecting the dots for a macro-perspective on pop. (The book's a steal at less than four books on Kindle, and recent PDFs are available at Miller's site.)
I found Game Theory via their final album, 1988's "Two Steps From the Middle Ages." Even without knowing their previous work, I could tell the Enigma label album was a hopeful effort to stick a toe into the mainstream. The liner-note photos show a dime-a-dozen bunch of polka-dotted, big-haired, Reagan-era kids; the album incorporates thin keyboards, tinny acoustic guitars, bluesy riffs, Camper Van Beethoven twang ("Amelia, Have You Lost"), righteous organ ("Throwing the Election," my favorite, and I will crank it tonight), a heady I mix I once described in print, I'm flushing to admit, as "a postmodern Kansas."
After Game Theory, Miller called his projects the Loud Family. My review of the Loud Family's inventive 1996 concept album, "Interbabe Concern," described the music this way, though the description applies to Miller's body of work: "Miller cycles through incongruous guitar chords with the same bravery and success of Steely Dan, and he packs each song with one syllable for nearly every note. Some of these songs might play well with the top down, but those who like to listen too closely to their pop music will get more out of the Loud Family. And you'll have to -- it's not an easy album to make sense of on the first spin, but those brave enough to have another go likely will, like me, one day be astonished at how long the disc has been in one chamber of the disc changer."
Miller self-described his vocals as a "miserable whine," and he wasn't just being modest. But it's worth bearing it to explore albums such as the Mitch Easter-produced and slightly straightforward "Big Shot Chronicles" (1986) and the ambitious art-rock of "Lolita Nation" (1987). Game Theory albums are hard to come by these days, but Miller's site kindly and currently offers downloads.
Adding extra pain to the news: Miller had been planning to reconnect with Game Theory members to record "Supercalifragile," the follow-up to "Two Steps" this summer.