Though the extraordinarily gifted musician Scott Miller died almost two and a half years ago, the idea that there will never be another Loud Family album, or that the Game Theory reunion he was readying will never happen, remains very hard to take.
Should those dropped names mean nothing to you, you’ve got some listening to do. Game Theory was Miller’s luminous and utterly stunning ‘80s pop band, and though they earned gushing critical raves and practically ruled the college radio roost in their day, they’re largely forgotten now. They never grabbed the corporate-label brass ring, and so slipped into obscurity just before that key ‘90s moment when “college rock” became “alternative rock” and there was finally a growing audience for such indie strivers. Miller was quite a figure—he sported a HUGE mop of red hair and sang in an improbably high-pitched voice, purveying a hyper-literate guitar rock that drew from jangle-pop and the Paisley Underground—though as they were variously based in Davis and San Francisco, Game Theory were never really an actual part of that particular L.A. scene, Miller was pals and sometime writing partners with the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio, who even joined a later version of the band. They hit a stride mid-decade with the 1986 LP The Big Shot Chronicles and the sprawling, experimental and flat-out ASTOUNDING 1987 2XLP Lolita Nation, my copy of which has been with me since its release and will leave my shelves when I’m dead. They followed that with the straightforwardly rock Two Steps from the Middle Ages before the band’s lineup fractured. For three years, no subsequent version of Game Theory would make an album, and the best-of compilation Tinker to Evers to Chance would serve as the band’s tombstone.
In 1991, in deference to those whom he thought might be weary of him naming yet another group of musicians “Game Theory,” Miller renamed his band the Loud Family, and pursued a more musically headstrong power-pop direction, though his unbeatable lyrical IQ remained a signature feature of his songwriting. The Loud Family would release music on the independent Alias label through the quite fine 2006 collaborative album with Anton Barbeau, What If it Works? Miller continued to write until his passing in 2103, but declined to release anything. His unexpected passing came just months before an intended Game Theory reunion that could have brought him some of the recognition that was criminally overdue to him.
At the time of Miller’s death, everything by Game Theory was out of print. In a move that I will always remember as one of the coolest ever, Miller’s family posted free MP3s of everything the band ever released upon his death, so fans and the curious could hear it without getting hosed by the preposterous pricing spike in the vinyl aftermarket that invariably seems to accompany a cult artist’s death. Those MP3s are offline now, as the reissue label Omnivore is bit by bit reissuing all the band’s work, in order. So far they’re up to 1985’s Real Nighttime, and The Big Shot Chronicles is due this year. A Riverfront Times piece published yesterday hinted at unreleased material (I’d loooooooove to hear what got left off of Lolita Nation), and told about Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Genius of Scott Miller, a forthcoming Miller biography, named for a Loud Family song and penned by Boston music writer Brett Milano.
[Don’t All Thank Me At Once] promises to tell not only Miller’s story, but more generally, “the story of the college and indie-rock explosion of the 1980s and 1990s, when everything seemed possible but some of the flagship artists still managed to fall through the cracks.” Milano managed to track down and interview almost every member of Miller’s three main bands (no small feat: this includes at least two dozen people). He’s also interviewed Mitch Easter, who produced many of Game Theory and the Loud Family’s recordings, Aimee Mann, with whom he had planned to collaborate, and others from Miller’s life and career.