Before delving into my critique, for the uninitiated, Game Theory were a Davis, CA export who belonged to a loosely allied vanguard of forward thinking combos included Let’s Active, REM and the dBs. In essence they were “new music” without the baggage and often goofy proclivities of “new wave” – a rare find even back in the early ’80s. Their winsome 1986 long-player, The Big Shot Chronicles is the latest in a series of expanded and remastered reissues courtesy of Omnivore Music.
If there was ever an anthemic, clarion call to commence a Game Theory record “Here it Is Tomorrow,” the opening salvo of the band’s third proper album, The Big Shot Chronicles, clearly takes the cake. With Gil Ray’s pounding thunderclap drums and the late Scott Miller’s rapid fire spoken/sung cadence leading the propulsive, punky charge, “Here It Is…” asserts it’s presence like nothing else the band had committed to tape prior. From what I’ve been able to gauge from a pretty wide swath of Game Theory aficionados, the albums sandwiching Big Shot (1985’s Real Nighttime and ’87s double magnum opus Lolita Nation) are the most revered. So much so with Lolita… in fact, it was reissued in reverse chronological order to this one, almost as if to prioritize it. Personally, I can’t be impartial to Big Shot, if only because it represented my first exposure to Game Theory, eventually leading me into Miller’s unfolding universe, up to and including his subsequent foray, The Loud Family.
Beyond my slightly indulgent testimonial, the band’s not-so-difficult third album found Game Theory settling not merely on a more assured sound, but a signature one at that. In the process, they ironed out some of the nascent wrinkles that charmingly evidenced themselves on their debut, Blaze of Glory, three years prior – an album which for better or worse wasn’t cut under the most professional of circumstances. The Big Shot Chronicles is all about honing a new kind of charm – one forged from the lessons of fifteen years of power pop spoils (from both sides of the Atlantic), not to mention the then fertile Paisley Underground hubbub due south in their native California. Modest dollops purloined from the Beatles and Big Star didn’t hurt either. Scott Miller and Co. stitched up all of this inspiration and appeal with a subtly indigenous thread. The Game Theory “recipe,” as it were.
And what of the songs composing the record in question? By the time Big Shot… was tracked by Mitch Easter, G/T were finally in full swing, both in terms of songwriting and performance acumen. The aforementioned “Here it is Tomorrow” is a flabbergastingly sharp opener, yet it’s bested a little further in via a vivacious and visceral pop/rock trifecta – “I’ve Tried Subtlety,” “Erika’s Word,” and “Crash Into June” all of which are worthy of college rock canonization. Big Shot’s brashness and carefully wielded horsepower wasn’t rooted in arrogance so much as four years of practice, touring and toil that this band accumulated since their 1982 genesis. Conversely, Game Theory turn this record on it’s head so to speak, in the guise of spare acoustic pieces as well, specifically “Regenisraen,” and “Like a Girl Jesus,” the latter of which resonated enormously with fans, and was even paid homage to a decade later by indie acts The Killjoys and Sleepyhead. Now, everything that falls in between the cracks of the songs I mentioned aren’t necessarily as riveting, but let it be known that Big Shot is phenomenally consistent was perhaps the most definitive record in the band’s catalog, spanning the depth and breadth of their capabilities. In fact, it’s the ideal starting point for neophytes too, but above all else a sophisticated, cohesive, and artful pop record.
Omnivores reissue and expansion of Big Shot entails a thirteen song addendum, including some of the bonus songs from the original Alias Records 1993 overhaul of the album, live takes of “Friend of the Family” and the Velvets “Sweet Jane,” rough mixes and demos, and a primo remake of Todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.” It’s available now direct from Omnivore, or Amazon and iTunes if you prefer. The vinyl incarnation is pressed on immaculate looking transparent green wax.