The Upshot: With (originally) four sides of vinyl and twenty-seven tracks, the ’87 (possible) masterpiece now becomes an expanded, deluxe reissue in all its sprawling, brilliant, messy, maddening glory.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
1987: Davis-to-San Francisco rock band Game Theory had found some measure of success with the previous year’s The Big Shot Chronicles, at least at college radio. As the fourth album loomed, it was time – time for the Big Statement. Producer Mitch Easter was ready, the re-tooled band (with new bassist Guillame Gassuan and second guitarist/singer Donette Thayer joining keyboardist Shelley LaFreniere and stalwart drummer Gil Ray) was ready, and bandleader Scott Miller was definitely ready. The result of all this ambition was the sprawling, brilliant, messy, maddening double album Lolita Nation, an overfrosted wedding cake’s worth of psychedelic new wave power pop, given a deluxe reissue here.
With (originally) four sides of vinyl and twenty-seven tracks to play with, Miller guided the band down a fragmented road. Before anybody had ever heard of Guided By Voices, and in anticipation of his own Game Theory sequel the Loud Family, Miller was giving snippets of songs as prominent a place as his fully realized creations. Short bits like “Go Ahead, You’re Dying To,” the backwards “Turn Me On Dead Man” and the ridiculously titled electro tomfoolery “Watch Who You’re Calling Space Garbage Meteor Mouth/Pretty Green Shark” get in and get out, leaving just enough impression for the listener to know a song has been there. Miller and company really take the approach over the top with side three’s bizarre mini-epic that begins with the shimmering shard “All Clockwork and No Bodily Fluids Makes Hal a Dull Metal Humbert” and ends with the blink-and-you’ll-definitely-miss-it “27” – 25 spurts of music in under two minutes. Exactly what kind of accomplishment that becomes is up to the individual spinner.
Ironically, the songs between which the fragments are scattered are some of Miller’s best and most bracing pop tunes. “Look Away” (sung by Thayer), “The Real Sheila” and “Chardonnay” would fight for pride of place on any list of great power pop songs. “Slip” puts a Miller/Easter spin on synth-kissed new waveabilly, while “Little Ivory” adds hard rock power chords to the mix. “One More For Saint Michael” approximates roots rock in Miller’s own distinctive way, while LaFreniere’s “Toby Ornette” condenses a prog rock instrumental into a three-minute pop song. The band’s by-now patented blend of janglecrunch guitars and twinkling synths turns into pure sugar rush when applied to such tight blasts of tunesmithery. Though shot through with squealing noises and background sounds that add an abrasive texture to what is otherwise a blazing, straightforward rock tune, “The Waist and the Knees” is still one of Game Theory’s most instantly appealing creations. Altering the weirdness into a sheen of acid warmth, fan favorite “Together Now, Very Minor” brings the proceedings to a wispy, tuneful close.
As usual for Omnivore’s GT reissue series, this edition comes with an extra disk crammed with all sorts of goodies for the more-than-casual fan. Besides live and alternate takes on a goodly chunk of Nation tracks, the bonus disk is packed with covers, the mix of which gives an insight into Miller’s creative aesthetic. Essayed by both GT as a whole and Miller solo, the Hollies, Elvis Costello, Iggy & the Stooges, Joy Division, David Bowie (twice), the Smiths, the Modern Lovers, the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. all get their turn on the Game Theory wheel, sounding as much like the band performing them as the artists from which they came.
Whether or not Lolita Nation is Miller’s masterpiece is up for debate. Some might find the fragments intrusive, even annoying – it was early days for Miller’s penchant for fucking shit up, and the blend of songs ‘n’ snippets is arguably not yet as potent as it would become with the Loud Family. That said, the shards are part and parcel of the experience here – as irritating as they can sometimes be, it’s hard to imagine the LP without them. Grand statement or not, Lolita Nation is still a significant step for Game Theory, and one that fascinates and beguiles as much now as it did in the late ‘80s.
DOWNLOAD: “Look Away,” “Chardonnay,” “Together Now, Very Minor”