Album Review – 2 Steps from the Middles Ages by Game Theory (1988) (Enigma Records)

In the post-The Smiths final few years of the late 1980’s, there was a uniformity to jangle-pop. Many American bands were joining the R.E.M / Miracle Legion / Pylon college rock party just  too late and swathes of British/Irish bands such as The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Frank and Walters, The Chesterfields, The Mock Turtles, 1000 Yard Stare and the The Corn Dollies were enjoying the new post Morrissey / Post-Punk licence to provide non-suicide jangle. Even Half Man Biscuit Half Biscuit were augmenting the total irreverent irrelevance of their pop-culture diatribes with the sounds of the era’s jangle-pop.

Permanent empty signs on my wallet will testify that all of the above were brilliant bands, there was however, no denying that the jangle-pop aesthetic was becoming increasingly immovable . However, throughout (and within) this transition to the jolly jangle movement, the brilliant Game Theory provided those that needed a bit of spiky jangled ‘ying’ to the prettiness of the general ‘yang’, with five albums culminating in this, their last, but most accomplished,  2 Steps from the Middle Age album.

As a goodbye (although nearly 30 years later in 2017, they did release a re-union album, Supercalifragile out of KCM Records) this album was perfect, especially as the band had steered off their general course on the previous 1987 album Lolita, which although being considered by many as their magnus opus, drifted too far into the minefield of experimental and  overtly ‘baroque lush’ for my liking. 

On this album the structure of their traditional skewed jangle-pop is returned with majestic aplomb with tracks such as Don’t Entertain Me twice, Initiations Week, Room For One More Honey and the superlative Amelia Have You Lost (see below), utilizing their trademark skewed, biased and often misshapen jangled guitar riffs to equally distorted song structures and tempo variations, that accentuated the dour grumpiness of the vocals and lyrical content. 

To all intents and purposes I should really be describing any number of post-punk bands, however the bass was never chunky enough and the jangled guitar riffs were always omnipotent even if they were not always the main focus of the sound. Effectively these tracks should be celebrated as being gloriously Game Theory from the more obtuse side of their musical personality.

Amelia, Have You Lost

However this album also shows anotherr side of the Game Theory musical arsenal that was also never far away on all of their albums. For Game Theory were always able to add at least a couple of absolute bangers and ‘should have been commercially successfully’ singles to each album. 

This album is undeniably their best and excels further than their back catalogue inasmuch that the almost power-pop brilliance of You Drive and What the Whole World Wants are superbly augmented by tracks that under the hands of earlier 80’s college rock ‘stars’ would have been absolute hits in In a Delorean, What the World Wants and the albums true standout the wonderful Throwing The Election (see below) which hints at where jangle-pop was going to end up in the next few years. It is just a album littered with singles.

Throwing The Election

Always innovative to the point of sometimes being a bit weird, Game Theory could never quite shake off their ability to produce ‘a tune’ no matter how hard they sometimes appeared to want to and a such appealed to all manner of ‘indie types’…and so they should…and still should!

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