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Game Theory

Game Theory: Masterpiece -- or Heaven's Gate?

Musician, February 1988

By Duncan Strauss

Even the big corporate record companies put out very few double albums these days. So before you hear a note of Game Theory's Lolita Nation -- a sprawling two-record set recently released by indie label Enigma -- you know you have something pretty unusual in hand.

No kidding. From the first side, where cuts clock in between 21 seconds and six-plus minutes, to side two, where the lilting single "The Real Sheila" resides; from the really tilted third side on which lead Theoretician Scott Miller shares songwriting space with the other band members, to the comparatively straightforward fourth side -- Lolita Nation is a wide-open, ambitious sonic and verbal adventure that suggests that most every idea was tried. And most of 'em worked.

That's not to say it won't be a hard sell, which Miller says Enigma realized as the company heard more and more of the project in progress. "They didn't want to have something on their hands that was just big and unwieldy -- some kind of audio Heaven's Gate."

But despite efforts to convince the San Francisco-based outfit that four sides of this musical crazy quilt might be two too many, Miller kept plugging away. "You kind of screw yourself if you submit to that kind of panic," he says, "because I think a lot of the charm of this album is that it is sprawling."

After such a large and wonderfully off-kilter opus, what can he do for an encore? Not to worry; Miller says he tends to make records that are alternately down-the-line, then off-the-wall. This pattern began shortly after Game Theory came together in 1982 in Davis, California, a college town that also spawned the Dream Syndicate, True West and Thin White Rope. Real Nighttime (1985), Miller recalls, "was just sort of out there compared to the records I'd done before, and the one after it [The Big Shot Chronicles]."

That certainly bodes weird for the album after next. When you consider how far out Lolita Nation goes -- you gotta love a psycho-cut titled "Watch Who You're Calling Space Garbage Meteor Mouth Pretty Green Card Shark," which takes longer to say than to hear -- you can bet that the next experimental LP will see Miller blast Game Theory further into the sonic universe. But it won't be no space garbage.

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