Sunday, July 02, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Game Theory - Tinker To Evers To Chance

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #12:

Game Theory is an acquired taste. Lead vocalist and songwriter Scott Miller has an exaggeratingly self-deprecating “miserable whine” of a voice, and writes intelligent if cryptically personal lyrics of hit-and-miss wordplay and evocation.

Here’s the big “but” -- and it’s a deal-maker: the man has an unerring melodic gift -- he can write seemingly effortless hooks you can hang your heart on. Tough but tender power-pop of buoyant infectiousness and aching poignancy will sink into you, and unless you have ice water in your veins, the songs will make you a believer.

Don’t be the one that got away. I was immediately pulled in as a record store manager in the 1980s casually giving a listen to new promo LP, Big Shot Chronicles. In a rarely used practice, I bought up everything I could and kept my eye out for new releases.

Tinker to Evers to Chance is a “Best of” compilation and testament to the Northern California group’s off-the-radar brilliancy since they had emerged from the fringes of the early ’80s Paisley Underground pseudo-psychedelic movement. Pulling 22 songs off of four early EPs and four studio albums, including the sublime Chronicles and the ambitious, all-over-the-pop map 2-LP set Lolita Nation, the 1990 Tinker is a superb representation of Game Theory’s varied tastes-great no-filler sound before Miller broke up the band to form the similar-sounding Loud Family.

It might be a ‘nuff-said argument for Game Theory’s on-target instincts to cite a couple of stellar songs they chose to cover on the first full-length LP, Real Nighttime: prime influence Big Star’s “You Can’t Have Me,” and Todd Rundgren’s manic pop thrill “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.” Those selections are unfortunately not here, but there are enough original gems on Tinker to go around and make up for the loss.

Highlights include the soaring “24” and the lilting warmth of the rich, mid-tempo “We Love You, Carol and Alison” which is followed by an all-out rocking and almost-college hit “The Real Shiela.” The delicately atmospheric “Like a Girl Jesus” meets its match in the gorgeous, harmony-laced "Regenisraen," so heart-melting -- and brain-melding, too, for anyone trying to get the melody out of his or her head.

“None of the soaring flight we dreamed / Is any closer to perfection,” sings an apparently defeated Miller in the rollicking “Throwing The Election,“ the last song on Game Theory’s last album, 2 Steps From The Middle Ages. But judging from the career and careful craftsmanship of Game Theory, I don’t see how much closer to perfection they could have gotten.

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