• Robert Toren
  • Scott Miller of Game Theory

Last week marked the two-year anniversary of the passing of Scott Miller, one of pop music’s most intriguing, talented, and overlooked figures. Known best for fronting Game Theory (1982-1990) and Loud Family (1991-2006), the California singer, songwriter, and author was a true obsessive who had the ability to internalize and assimilate the most minute details of pop-rock history—remaking the past, embracing the present, and looking toward the future in hook-crammed songs. He even wrote a book about his favorite music. His music was dense, reference-laden, and wonderfully idiosyncratic—a recipe for obscurity. His bands did well in the college-radio era, but none of his music ever reached the wide audience it truly deserved. Last year Omnivore Recordings launched a well-deserved reissue program, digging deep enough to embarrass me—I had previously been unaware of Game Theory’s earliest work, featured on Blaze of Glory, and a couple of EPs collected on Dead Center.

The first Game Theory record I ever heard was the brilliant 1986 release Big Shot Chronicles, which should arrive next in Omnivore’s reissue program. My enthusiasm for that album led me to dig up Real Nighttime, the excellent album released a year earlier—last month it got the reissue treatment, appended by 13 bonus tracks and extensive liner notes that include a long interview with producer Mitch Easter, sharp historical context by Byron Coley, and a fond appreciation from Carl Newman of New Pornographers. It is repeatedly mentioned in those notes that the music retains the strong residue of early-80s production—lots of chintzy synthesizers (including some genuine solos) and electronic drums—but Miller was virulently antipurist and refused to tie himself down with thoughts about posterity. His melodies always shone through any sort of dated production, a dazzling mix of post-Big Star melodies twisted into bizarre, asymmetrical shapes, deft wordplay, and surprisingly potent guitar solos. Not everything Miller did was good, but he possessed such a fertile imagination and feverish energy that he produced a seemingly endless flurry of ideas. Even in the duds there are fascinating things to behold. I can’t wait to hear what else Omnivore digs up—including the promise to release a couple of albums of previously unissued stuff. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is “24,” which pointedly tacks on a brief quote from “Stairway to Heaven” during the conclusion: a simultaneous tweak and expression of adoration.