Album Reviews

Game Theory

The Big Shot Chronicles

Artist:     Game Theory

Album:     The Big Shot Chronicles

Label:     Omnivore Records

Release Date:     09/23/2016

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Gil Ray might be biased, but his opinion matters, as the drummer for a reshuffled Game Theory lineup that recorded The Big Shot Chronicles, the third album from the ‘80s college-radio underdogs and their leader, Scott Miller. It’s safe to say they rewrote the rule book on power-pop with their slightly off-kilter, idiosyncratic approach.

A conversation Ray had with band insider, Dan Vallor, is included with insightful, adoring liner notes for this 30th anniversary reissue of a record often overshadowed by its follow-up, the sprawling Lolita Nation. Perhaps for sentimental reasons, Ray cites The Big Shot Chronicles – produced by Mitch Easter – as his favorite Game Theory album in an in-depth talk that covers a lot of behind-the-scenes ground. Omnivore Recordings’ re-release makes a strong case for Ray’s choice. The 12 original tracks could win over any jury.

Full of beautiful, tangled nests of literate, bittersweet pop-rock saving young misfits and hopeless romantics drowning in troubled waters, The Big Shot Chronicles comes straight out of left field, its sweet harmonies and hook-filled melodies embedded in unconventional earworms. The catchy delirium of “Erica’s Word,” the wintery folk-pop eloquence of “Regenisraen” and the wildly careening exuberance of “Make Any Vows,” “Never Mind” and a stomping “Here It Is Tomorrow” offer various and sundry delights. Accessible without pandering to anyone, the jangly “The Only Lesson Learned,” the psychedelic and moody “Book of Millionaires” and the otherworldly “Like a Girl Jesus” – scratched up by experimental noise filigree – are pleasurable and challenging listens.

Many believe The Big Shot Chronicles opened the door for Lolita Nation’s lofty ambitions. The 13 bonus tracks – nine previously unissued – only reinforce the notion. Inhabiting Todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” Game Theory gives it a makeover that enhances its lovely features. A rough mix of “Erica’s Word” and a two-track demo of “The Only Lesson” punch up the originals, while perversely taking “Linus and Lucy” – the “Peanuts’ Theme” – apart and putting it back together again as a tight, bouncy little number and swaggering through a live version of the Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane” suggests a cavalier lack of reverence.

A passionate forward penned by the Magnet Fields’ Stephin Merritt, rare candid images and a thoughtful essay from esteemed music writer, Jason Cohen, round out a lovingly compiled and perfectly organized package that isn’t ostentatious. Decide for yourself where The Big Shot Chronicles ranks.

-Peter Lindblad

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