To listen to Alex Cameron is to, for a brief moment, suspend your morals. His music operates in a world not too unlike ours: songs about internet dating (‘True Lies’), yearning for romance (‘Studmuffin96’) and empowering self-confidence (‘Real Bad Lookin’’) can be found in his brief discography. However, the parallels run thin. If you dig a little deeper, these aforementioned songs are about being the victim of catfishing, wanting to date a minor and quite simply being an ass, respectively. For three years, Alex Cameron has carved out a character that you hate to love, but struggle to despise.
The art of subversion is the crown jewel to Cameron’s pawn shop-bought plastic toy crown. Look no further than ‘Studmuffin96’, taken from his 2017 effort ‘Forced Witness’. It is a bold, emphatic number that engulfs you, encouraging you to sing along. Harmonised chants of: “I’m here waiting for you” build, enticing you in. That is until the chorus kicks in: “I’m waiting for my lover, she’s almost 17.” The fun stops.
Except, of course, it doesn’t. It is simultaneously funny as it is crushing; the character he portrays is trying to catfish an underage girl, so he obviously sucks. The brilliance lies in the depth to this character – as the song unfolds, the character recoils at the opportunity to meet her, instead saying: “So I’m here waiting for you.” You almost feel bad for them, if it weren’t for the fact that his character is just The Worst. Alex Cameron’s songs succeed when the punchline hits, as the curtain is lifted to reveal just how terrible of a person he is in that song.
What happens if that punchline never arrives? What if Alex Cameron were to retract the preconceived notion of his humour? With ‘Miami Memory’, Cameron has created a body of work that culls a fair share of laughs, but bathes in a newfound sense of pride. For this is the first time ‘Alex Cameron the impersonator’ truly intertwines with ‘Alex Cameron the artist’. The songs are personal, intimate and, dare it be said, mature…?
Alex Cameron is in love. Jemima Kirke, the Girls actor, is the subject of all of the ten songs on the record – whether directly or indirectly. Kirke, Cameron’s girlfriend, has given life to a new side of Cameron. One that has been buried or at the very least, diluted: a sentimental side.
The title track on ‘Miami Memory’ encapsulates this new era – an enthralling, wide-screen adventure with a prominent rhythm section while Cameron sings of his established, comfortable romance. “Holding your hand at the beach,” he boasts. It is a love song that everyone can relate to. The lyric preceding it may beg to differ. “Holding your hand at the strip club.” It may sound humourous to the casual fan, to the bypasser but this is sincere, and a running thread through the album. Their romance is theirs alone, and it works because it is for them. In a similar fashion to how Cameron’s songs only really work because Cameron can convince you that his music stems from a meaningful place.
By playing down the satirical nature that has dominated his past work, Alex Cameron has allowed himself to experiment sonically. ‘Bad For The Boys’ is a honky-tonk stomper, sax and all. It is a lament to “the boys” – a group of guys that perceive themselves to be victims in the era of the #MeToo movement. Produced by Foxygen’s Jonathon Rado, it has that lush Foxygen edge especially as Roy Malloy takes the wheel. ‘PC With Me’ is a bouncy number, a frank conversation between a couple about how far they are willing to go. Despite the latter having a couple great quips (“We got figh as huck in Prague, sodomy in Berlin without no guten Tag”), both songs only feel fleshed out in arrangements, while the concepts do not seem fully realised.
‘Miami Memory’ does a stellar job in fan service while expanding the character Cameron conceived. Opener ‘Stepdad’, without context, is another entry in Cameron’s ever-expanding catalogue of hilarious choruses. “But if you see my name in the headlines and they’re all pissing on me, I’m your stepdad,” he states. With context, the song yet again is sincere. Jemima Kirke has two children from a previous relationship that Alex Cameron, here, is offering himself up to take on father duties. Behind the emphatic synth chords, piano solos and rapturous lyrics, the sentimental personal meaning is simply lovely (almost uncomfortably so).
There are a couple slogs; the last two tracks leave little impression while ‘End is Nigh’ (spare for a couple one-liners) kills momentum. If ‘Miami Memory’ highlights anything, it is how Cameron shines when his music has as much fun as his lyrics. ‘Far From Born Again’ might be the catchiest song of 2019 – don’t shoot the messenger, it is a fact. “Doo-doot”’s a-plenty and enough saxophone to last twelve months, it is irresistible. A pro-sex worker jam, there is no punchline here. Just Alex Cameron sharing his admiration. As for ‘Divorce’, Cameron is jubilantly offering to commit to marriage if that is what Kirke wants. “I’ve got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch,” Cameron offers, “if that’s how you want to play it.” A Springsteen-esque anthem, it is the energy the second half of the record needs.
Alex Cameron’s third effort is by some lengths his biggest departure. His songs still largely mock a certain type of man: the mistakes and results of toxic masculinity shadow the songs. This time, the inescapable overriding theme of ‘sure, he can have fun but he is – more importantly – in love’, is a welcome addition. The songs are more lavish and experimental. The characters in the songs have more complex dynamics. If you go in expecting the punchline, the release, you will be bemused. Does his way of expressing love involve detailed descriptions of eating ass, and sodomy? Maybe. This is simply an ode to a love, to a woman, that has improved Cameron’s life in every way.
Miami Memory by Alex Cameron is out now via Secretly Canadian