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Reviews: The Posies, “Failure” and Game Theory, “Blaze of Glory”

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Game Theory - Blaze of GloryThere’s something about power pop.

In this era of EDM and songwriting-by-committee (not that there’s anything wrong with that – is there?), there’s still something about a couple of guys armed with little but guitars, harmonies, and their own imaginations, driven to create a joyful noise. In this era when radio is dominated by music that can’t be duplicated onstage without benefit of technology, there’s something about the thought of musicians just plugging in and getting back-to-basics.

Omnivore Recordings is at the vanguard of keeping the flame of power pop alive – the genre whose name was coined by Pete Townshend in the late 1960s to describe “what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun.’” Power pop, then and now, is all about bold, bright, melodic, guitar-driven nuggets that you just can’t get out of your head. The Omnivore team has lavishly expanded two home-recorded debut albums that stand among the best, most creative, and most exuberant of the genre: Game Theory’s 1982 Blaze of Glory and The Posies’ 1988 Failure.

Power pop, however, doesn’t strictly define Blaze of Glory (Omnivore OVCD-96). The album, recorded in singer-songwriter-frontman Scott Miller’s bedroom at his parents’ house, could wear any number of tags as well: D.I.Y. rock, college rock, alternative rock. Miller formed Game Theory out of the ashes of Alternate Learning, his college band based in Sacramento and Davis, California. Alternate Learning had released an EP in 1979 and an LP in 1981 before disbanding early in 1982 and paving the way for Game Theory. Miller created his new band with Alternate Learning alumna Nancy Becker (keyboards/vocals), Fred Juhos (bass/guitar/vocals) and Michael Irwin (drums). It’s telling that Miller once roomed at school with Steve Wynn, who formed The Dream Syndicate in 1981 and became a leading light of the Paisley Underground sound; Wynn contributes to the liner notes of Omnivore’s reissue, recalling how he introduced Miller to power pop legends Big Star. It turns out that Miller wasn’t influenced by Alex Chilton and company (though “he took to the band on one listen,” per Wynn), but rather by The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Elvis Costello. All of those influences seeped into Game Theory, albeit with a heavy sheen of new wave, rendered in lo-fi style with prominent keyboards and guitars.

There’s certainly a dose of early Costello-esque acidity; on the raggedly primitive “Tin Scarecrow” (a lyrical Wizard of Oz amalgam), Miller wryly sneers, “Now you’re the way of the vacuum/Another human being’s freedom in the suck bag,” followed by appropriate sound effects! There’s a marked Beatles feel in the vocals and the arrangement of “The Young Drug,” despite its proclamation that “The future’s black and blue…it’s not 1962!” But if “The Young Drug” sounds a bit like what Andy Partridge was concocting with XTC at roughly the same time, Game Theory more closely resembles Devo on the full-throttle new wave attack of “White Blues.”

“Date with an Angel” shows Miller’s rapidly-evolving songcraft, via both the dynamics of its melody and its lyrical rebuffing of love-song conventions. “All I Want is Everything,” a frenetic post-punk rocker that lasts just slightly more than a minute, has Miller in biting mode: “She destroys me because she loves me/It’s like a wire around my neck/It’s making me a nervous wreck/I push away but still I cling/All I want from her is everything.” Yet he’s still attracted to the object of his affection and ire. Ditto on “Stupid Heart,” with Miller vocally recalling John Lennon in his vocals over a thumping blues-rock beat and insisting, “You could make suicide so easy…” Sonically, it’s one of the trippiest compositions here and the closest to explaining Pink Floyd as a part of the DNA of Game Theory! The more relaxed “You Give Me Chills” also finds the singer confronting a girl who makes him “so afraid” with typical ambivalence: “I don’t want to/still I stay.” The style and sound may be different, but Miller’s barbed lyrical musings on love follow a line that can be drawn all the way back to the Tin Pan Alley of yore.

One of the pleasures of Blaze of Glory is its stylistic variety within the D.I.Y. context. A martial beat drives “Mary Magdalene” (“’Cause sometimes I feel just like Mary Magdalene…Lord, this must be the blues”). Its Kafka reference befits the college-rock tag, but not nearly so much as “Bad Day at UCLA,” naturally. The song is presented on Omnivore’s reissue in three distinctive recordings: the persuasive original, a charmingly rough live version, and a brief reprise. Miller’s youth isn’t specifically addressed often in his songs on Blaze, but he supplies an evocative set of soul-searching lyrics for “Sleeping Through Heaven” which drip with post-collegiate angst but also with cleverness and sharp observation.

There’s much more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 2, 2014 at 10:32

Posted in Game Theory, News, Reissues, Reviews, The Posies

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Release Round-Up: Week of August 19

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The Posies, Failure (Omnivore)

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Omnivore expands the 1988 debut album from power-pop heroes The Posies.  The new Failure restores the album’s original 12-track running order (preserved on cassette but cut down by one song on vinyl) and adds eight bonus tracks. Many of these are sourced from a long out-of-print 2000 box set and a 2004 reissue of the album proper, but one, a demo of “At Least for Now,” is being heard for the first time on this disc.  The deluxe configuration is available on CD, and the original 12-track album on vinyl plus the bonus tracks on a download card.  Even better, the first pressing of the LP will be green vinyl!


Professor Longhair, Let’s Go to New Orleans: The Sansu Sessions (Fuel) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Fuel continues to raid the catalogues of Allen Toussaint’s Sansu and Dessu labels with a compilation of Toussaint-helmed sides for New Orleans’ great piano man Professor Longhair.

On the Town - London

Original London Cast Recording, On the Town (Masterworks Broadway)

In conjunction with the upcoming Broadway revival of the classic Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical, Masterworks Broadway brings the 1963 Original London Cast Recording to CD-R and DD for the first time.  Elliott Gould, Don McKay, Franklin Kiser and Carol Arthur star in this recording of the production directed and choreographed by Joe Layton.  Available exclusively at for a limited time.


Smokey Robinson, Smokey and Friends (Verve) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Okay, this isn’t a catalogue title, but we couldn’t resist putting the spotlight on Smokey Robinson’s new studio collection!  Smokey puts his own spin on the now-de rigeur duets album, featuring many of his famous Motown hits in new versions alongside Elton John, Sheryl Crow, John Legend, James Taylor, Steven Tyler and more!

Bitter Tears Revisited

Various Artists, Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited (Sony Masterworks) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This isn’t a reissue, either, but rather a tribute to The Man in Black’s 1964 concept album which daringly shed light on the plight of Native Americans.  This 50th anniversary set presents Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Bill Miller, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and veteran of the original LP Norman Blake as they reinvent Cash’s original songs with producer Joe Henry.  Look Again to the Wind is also a companion piece to the new documentary film We’re Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, chronicling the story of Bitter Tears and this new recording.

Spider - Kritzerland

Soren Hyldgaard, The Spider: Original Soundtrack Recording (Kritzerland)

Pre-orders are now being accepted for Kritzerland’s latest offering: Soren Hyldgaard’s spellbinding score to the 2000 Danish miniseries The Spider, a noir set in Copenhagen in the wake of World War II.  This 1,000-unit limited edition release improves on an earlier CD release in Denmark, upping the running time from around 44 minutes to nearly 79, mastered from the composer’s complete score tapes. The disc will ship by the last week of September, but pre-orders directly from Kritzerland usually arrive three to five weeks ahead of schedule.

Blow Out OST

Pino Donaggio, Blow Out: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack (Intrada)

Intrada has pre-orders open for this reissue of the soundtrack by Pino Donaggio (Carrie) for Brian DePalma’s 1981 thriller starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz and John Lithgow.  Though the haunting score was previously released on CD in 2002, Intrada corrects errors in track titles and sequencing, and otherwise upgrades its presentation for a new group of listeners who might have missed out on the first, now out-of-print release.

Omnivore Succeeds with Reissue of The Posies’ “Failure”

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PosiesLast week Omnivore Recordings announced their latest title for the late summer: an expansion of the debut album by power-pop idols The Posies.

The Washington-based group, built around singers/songwriters/guitarists Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, earned immediate indie acclaim when first album Failure was released on the PopLlama label in 1988 after Scott McCaughey – leader of The Minus 5 and a constant collaborator with R.E.M. since the mid-1990s – was given a self-released copy of the album on cassette. The album opened the band up for widespread success in the next decade; The Posies ultimately signed with DGC Records, had their modern rock hit “Golden Blunders” covered by Ringo Starr and (perhaps the highest level of power pop ascension you can get) became part of the Big Star story when Auer and Stringfellow were recruited to join a new lineup of the group with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens in the 1990s and 2000s. The Posies continue to record and tour to this day, no doubt inspiring countless fans of gorgeous hooks and beautiful harmonies to continue the tradition.

Omnivore’s expanded Failure restores the album’s original 12-track running order (preserved on cassette but cut down by one song on vinyl) and adds eight bonus tracks. Many of these are sourced from a long out-of-print 2000 box set and a 2004 reissue of the album proper, but one, a demo of “At Least for Now,” is being heard for the first time on this disc.

The power-pop goodness of Failure is reintroduced on August 19 on both CD and LP (which will feature the original 12-track playlist with the bonus tracks available on a download card). The first pressing of the LP edition will be on green vinyl – hence that green square you see above! Amazon links currently only exist for CD versions, but you can find those, as well as the full track list, below.

Failure: Expanded Edition (Omnivore Recordings, 2014)

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

  1. Blind Eyes Open
  2. The Longest Line
  3. Under Easy
  4. Like Me Too
  5. I May Hate You Sometimes
  6. Ironing Tuesdays
  7. Paint Me
  8. Believe in Something (Other Than Yourself)
  9. Compliment?
  10. At Least for Now
  11. Uncombined
  12. What Little Remains
  13. Believe in Something Other (Than Yourself) (Live)
  14. I May Hate You Sometimes (Demo)
  15. Paint Me (Demo)
  16. Like Me Too (Demo)
  17. Alison Hubbard (Instrumental)
  18. After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (Instrumental)
  19. Blind Eyes Open (Instrumental Demo)
  20. At Least for Now (Demo)

Tracks 1-12 released PopLLama PL-2323, 1988
Track 13 from At Least At Last box set – Not Lame Recordings NLA-006, 2000
Tracks 14-19 from 15th anniversary expanded edition – Houston Party HPR091, 2004
Track 20 previously unreleased

Written by Mike Duquette

June 30, 2014 at 13:12