Game Theory's nervy debut album gets to baffle another generation of listeners with this bulky reissue.
The rerelease of Blaze of Glory is for people who think bands peak on their first album.
This is a notion I wasn't used to when I first started to like music seriously. If anything, I thought people got better over time. The first time you ride a unicycle isn't going to be your best, so why shouldn't that apply to a young band trying to find their footing? But as I got older, I realized that there were many out there who think that a young band's awkward naiveté can never properly be recaptured and thus their best material is always whatever came first. This obviously doesn't apply across the board since not only is music a highly subjective thing but many first albums sound like a unicycle novice's maiden voyage. I was once in a band that got taken to the cleaners in a local weekly because we had recorded too soon after our start (at least that was the journalist's reasoning).
But Game Theory hadn't been together all that long when they cut Blaze of Glory. In fact, the band had just undergone a personnel change that spawned a new sound and name. While Alternate Learning were turning into Game Theory and laying the ground for the home recording of Blaze of Glory, singer / guitarist / songwriter Scott Miller and his new band were caught in the middle of Sacramento’s burgeoning early '80s paisley underground scene. It was a tightly knit community of bands that bought into the ethics of punk rock without restricting themselves to it in sound. Expectations for brilliantly raw records from bands that put on killer shows were pretty high. Then again, those expectations stayed within the indie community. Alternate Learning had created quite a buzz. And with the new lineup of Miller on vocals and guitar, Nancy Becker on keyboards, Fred Juhos on bass and Mike Irwin on drums, that indie community was poised to love Game Theory. And from that indie love Blaze of Glory sprang forth.
A passage in Dan Vallor's portion of the liner notes reads "Scott had mixed feelings about his early work. At times he was convinced it was best not revisited, and at other times he appreciated that it could stand on its own." And this is as good a description of listening to Blaze of Glory than I could come up with. It stirs up mixed feelings. On one hand, Miller's thin voice occasionally distracts, most songs are disjointed and the band comes off as awkward. On the other hand, very little out there sounds quite like it. It still sounds very much like a band's first album recorded in someone's house in 1982. "Young Drug" and "Bad Year at UCLA" are pretty scene specific, but the jangly "Sleeping Through Heaven" and the quiet finger snapper "It Gives Me Chills" are the kinds of tracks that can hold up in another time and place. So while Blaze of Glory has aged over these past 32 years, time has been good to it overall.
Omnivore Recordings's re-release of Blaze of Glory comes with enough supplemental material to double its length, weighing in at 27 tracks that span nearly 76 minutes. Right after the proper album's conclusion are two Alternate Learning recordings, "Another Wasted Afternoon" and "What's the Matter", with "Beach State Rocking" and "The New You" appearing later in the listing (I don't know why they're broken apart like that). There are live recordings of "Bad Year at UCLA", "Mary Magdalene" and "Aliens in our Midst" that are all of decent quality, considering the portable recording equipment that was likely available at the time. Interspersed are early Miller demos and brief recordings of him and Nan's brother Jozef Becker putting a vinyl record through a variety of durability "tests": scratching it with a compass needle, lighting it on fire, stabbing it with a knife and smacking it against a desk.
It's comic relief for an album that didn't really need it anyway. This isn't to say that Game Theory started out as joke music, but their first steps as a band were noticeably light-hearted. As bassist Juhos writes, "It's innocent and contains no hint of the jaded cynicism found in his (Miller's) later work." And that, right there, could be the reason why so many music fans prefer the magic of the debut.