You’ve never heard of Scott Miller. That’s understandable. He was never the most high profile of musicians. When he passed away in April 2013, the news was reported in barely a handful of publications or websites before everyone turned their attention to the forthcoming will.i.am album. So why should anyone care about a posthumous record made up of scraps of songs he was recording shortly before his death? Well…you should care because it draws to a close, the career of a man who had carved out one of the most consistently excellent bodies of work in the popular music idiom.
Between 1979-2006, Miller (working as leader of Alternate Learning, Game Theory and The Loud Family) created music which, although it had its roots in sixties and seventies pop-rock, was so far reaching that you often felt dizzy when you listened to it. Pop culture references would collide with veiled homages to James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. Good old-fashioned rock and roll was juxtaposed with bizarre tape collages. But Miller made it work. Beautifully.
“Supercalifragile” is far from the barrel scraping, cash cow milking that a cynical observer may have expected. Instead it’s a labour of love, musically directed by Ken Stringfellow (of the Posies, Big Star and REM) and Millers’ widow Kristine. They sifted through the material (some finished songs, some scraps and shards of ideas) and with the help of Miller’s band mates, both past and present, a collection of 15 satisfying songs emerged. Augmenting Miller’s regular sidemen on “Supercalifragile” are Aimee Mann, Peter Buck, Mitch Easter and Camper Van Beethoven’s Jonathan Segel, amongst others. It’s a testament to his influence and the respect he was held in by his peers, that these A- listers gave their time and talent so freely to this project.
Incredibly, given the circumstances, “Supercalifragile” sounds like a cohesive album and not a ragbag of disjointed fragments. Long standing Game Theory fans will be delighted by its portmanteau title, combining Mary Poppins with prog-rock giants Yes and by the quality of the songs. The album opens up with the ubiquitous tape collage and then we get “All You Need is White” – a thoughtful rocker that was Miller’s stock in trade. It’s been a long time since alternative rock has been as artfully crafted as this. “An Overview of Item Response Theory” is an uncharacteristically straight forward pop-rocker which gives us a taste as to what Game Theory could have sounded like if circumstances hadn’t been what they were. Some songs don’t feature Miller as a performer at all – “Valerie Tomorrow” and “Say Goodbye” showcase alternate vocalists, but the elaborate vocal melodies and expansive lyrics could only come from Miller. Jon Auer of the Posies shines on “Between the Bottles” contributing his typically masterful voice as well as earning a co-write on one of the albums highlights.
“What if?” hangs heavy in the air over “Supercalifragile”. Since Miller’s death, Omnivore Records have reissued the entire Game Theory back catalogue in an expansively expanded format and critics are falling over themselves to sing his praises. One can only wonder what effect this critical approbation would have had on Miller and his work. The most interesting “what if?” on this record is “No Love” – a duet with Miller and Aimee Mann. Mann was a fan of Miller’s post Game Theory project The Loud Family and recorded an album with him in 2002 which remains unreleased – or tragically, lost. “No Love” can only hint at what that album could sound like and what effect that the exposure to Mann’s mainstream audience would have had on Miller. Sadly, we’ll never know.
“Supercalifragile” is a quiet triumph for all concerned. This could never have been an easy process from both a technical and emotional perspective, but it’s better than even the most die-hard fan could have hoped for and sits perfectly in Miller’s enviable catalogue. Hopefully, the high profile of many of the guest performers on the album will open up Miller’s legacy to a wider audience. What a treat for them – 27 years of peerless alternative rock to discover. For those people already familiar with his work, this is a fitting epitaph to a body of work like none other.
“Supercalifragile” is available now via KCM Records
The track listing is as follows:
- The End Precedes the Beginning
- All You Need is White
- Time Warner
- An Overview of Item Response Theory
- No Love
- Valerie Tomorrow
- Say Goodbye
- Laurel Canyon
- Between the Bottles
- Always Julianne
- It’s a Wonderful Lie
- Oh, Death
- Exit for an Opening
- I Still Dream of Getting Back to Paris