Many fans of 1987's sprawling and often bizarre masterwork Lolita Nation felt that 1988's comparatively concise and straightforward Two Steps From the Middle Ages was a step backward for Scott Miller and company. Listened to on its own merits, however, Two Steps is clearly one of Game Theory's finest efforts and an entirely worthy follow-up to Lolita Nation. Squeezing that album's love for odd sounds and unexpected musical detours into a 13-song stretch of relatively "normal" pop song structures, this is a musically and lyrically satisfying album with none of the filler that marks earlier records like The Big Shot Chronicles. Guitarist Donnette Thayer's helium-pitched harmony vocals are better integrated into the songs than they had been on Lolita Nation, and her lead on "Wyoming" is her best vocal performance ever. (It helps that, unlike her wretched contributions to Lolita Nation, that album's only flaws, she didn't write the song.) The songs are uniformly terrific, with at least half a dozen all-time Game Theory classics, including the opening "Room for One More, Honey"; led by Gil Ray's walloping drums and featuring two intertwining vocal lines on the chorus by Thayer and keyboardist Shelley LaFreniere, this song pulls off the difficult trick of being simultaneously mid-tempo and hyperactive. Other gems include the delightful "Rolling With the Moody Girls," with its "Baker Street"-like sax interjections, and the brilliant "Throwing the Election," chosen as Miller's best song ever in an online fan poll. This turned out to be Game Theory's final album, as Thayer left the group and Ray was seriously injured in a mugging shortly after the album's release, leading to a period of personnel instability that eventually led to the group's dissolution in 1990. It's a shame, as a similarly strong follow-up to Two Steps From the Middle Ages could have put Game Theory one step closer to escaping the nearly total oblivion they operated in for most of their career.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason