Alex Cameron Is the Good Guy on 'Miami Memory'
Alex Cameron's third album, Miami Memory, is still some kind of monster, but it has drawn in its teeth and is laughing with the family.
13 September 2019
There are many reasons to listen to pop music. Sometimes you need something to relate with, and sometimes you need some melancholy to roll yourself into. Sometimes you need a beat to move, and sometimes you get a taste for something that will throw your brain into a blender and hit "liquefy". Alex Cameron's albums can do that. His first two albums were wild journeys into decidedly horrible characters' psyche, sending your thoughts to play catch-up with your belief system like you're listening to an old Randy Newman record for the first time. Cameron was a man showing off his collection of gruesome masks. Cameron's new album, Miami Memory, is claiming to clean all that up and show us the real Alex Cameron behind that grimy guy we already know. It's tender, playful, and occasionally just plain triumphant.
Cameron's debut Jumping the Shark was a nightmare, and no one would be surprised if it was picked up by David Lynch for a feature. The album is sonically dreary but pleasantly reaching, and it's lyrically full of lurching creepies. The follow-up, Forced Witness, was much of the same despicable characters but with a Springsteenian makeover. You still hated the leads, but you could bounce your knee and shuffle your feet to it. Cameron's third album, Miami Memory, is still some kind of monster, but it has drawn in its teeth and is laughing with the family.
Let's take the lead track, "Stepdad" as an example. It starts with synth spikes and a melody not unlike something Cameron has offered up on past albums. Musically, it's a glorious blast. Something's off though: the protagonist seems all right for once. We don't instantly want to push him away. I mean, the chorus says, "I'm your stepdad", and the verse describes reading to the child and making imaginary worlds in the living room as he does so. It's absolutely wholesome, and, it seems odd to say this about an Alex Cameron album but, somewhat touching and just plain fun. What is going on here?
Cameron is doubling back is what. He's still occupying the same world of people on the fringe of society. But now he seems invested in humanizing what's good in these characters and demonizing what's bad. "Bad for the Boys" starts with imagery describing some typical bad guys, to an uncomfortable degree. Cameron rides a Steely Dan beat describing their viewpoints. But by the end, he's letting us know that they're "living little lives without women". Blaming them for all the change. You thought the boys were going remain the same. But no one cares about your good old days." So, its as if the new Alex Cameron has zoomed out and is now commenting on that old Alex Cameron character. It's a little unsettling at first, but there's a dose of triumph in all of it, as well.
So, which has more value? The grimy Alex Cameron character or the behind-the-mask, loving, and fun Cameron we're hearing on Miami Memory? There's no answer, of course. There are many reasons to listen to pop music. Right? Cameron has played the villain in the past, now he's playing the good guy, and he's great at that just the same. He's gone from terrible to tender. Good trade, I'd say.