There are few entertainers in the music business like Alex Cameron. Perhaps that is a sentiment that gets thrown around too loosely, but over just a few albums into his career, Cameron’s ability to inhabit the minds of infinitely strange and troubled characters truly places him in a league of his own. On his latest record, the Australian singer-songwriter shifts gear into a more personal perspective without losing any steam. Miami Memory is a declaration of love, laden with Cameron’s signature wit and penchant for crafting an infectious pop song.
Miami Memory is filled with hilarious quotables and memorable one-liners, yet humor is only part of what makes Cameron’s songwriting so appealing. On one hand, his uncanny knack for melody is a constant force, something well-established on Cameron’s previous effort, 2017’s Forced Witness. “Far From Born Again,” one of the singles Cameron dropped in the lead up to the new record, perfectly captures this quality. Amid a slick disco guitar riff and the majestic saxophone of Roy Molloy, a simple “doo-doo” becomes the mantra for an epic tribute to sex workers.
Tunes like this are essential to understanding the Al Cam freight train and where it’s headed. By now it’s no secret Cameron is keen to exploring life’s many microscopic failures through a unique point of view. On his last record, he role-played petty ex-boyfriends, sexual predators, and certifiable douchebags to great amusement. The best part about it was he delivered those songs in the form of undeniably catchy pop-rock anthems so large and groovy, even someone misinterpreting him as a mentally sick and twisted monster would be hard-pressed to not dance to his music.
The songs on Miami Memory are easily less anthemic, but they are every bit as carefully written as anything Cameron has ever done. The tracks here come from a deeply personal place, taking familiar topics like masculinity and moral decrepitness and using them to examine the nature of Cameron’s fiery relationship with actress and artist Jemima Kirke. Many of the songs on the album seem to be directly about her – the polarizing “Miami Memory;” the despondent yet endearing “End is Nigh;” the impassioned “Other Ladies,” the list goes on.
In this love-driven state of writing, Cameron is able to churn out some of his most pensive and thoughtful songs to date. In particular, “End is Nigh” and “Too Far” strike a dark emotional chord that simultaneously uplifts Cameron’s love for Kirke into clear view. Reciting through various hypotheticals in which the pair are split and also pondering how the trials of life will alter their relationship in the future, Cameron pronounces his commitment in title-referencing lyrics on each respective song: “If the end is nigh, baby, I don’t think I want to survive” and “for as long as it’s in the cards…you could never go too far.” For what these songs lack in swagger, they more than account for in compelling lyrics and vulnerability.
Musically, the record has more in common with the wonky late-night vibes of Cameron’s synth-heavy debut Jumping the Shark than it does with Forced Witness. Take the rigid electro beat of the title track, on which Cameron revels in a self-mythologizing love affair that consists of “eating ass like an oyster,” or the stiff grooves of the opening track “Stepdad,” a comical meditation on inherited fatherhood, and it’s clear he finds little difficulty in putting his poetry to an instrumental that boasts more sweat than suave. If anything, the rough sound pallet provides an added punch to his words, causing them to hit just a little harder and linger in your mind for an extra moment.
Where Miami Memory does present a handful of instrumental throwbacks, a large chunk of the record signifies a slight switch up in sound, albeit a foreseeable and enjoyable one. This time around, Cameron and producer Jonathan Rado veer towards stripped back piano rock and a hardened brand of singer-songwriter music, welcoming in brass, a variety of keyboard instruments and quietly rocking percussion to construct the world within Cameron’s stories exist. The horn-infused “Bad For the Boys” reads aloud a shameful list of “dudes being dudes” over a pleasant piano backdrop; “PC With Me” is assisted by more sax and Rado-flavored organ progressions; and “Divorce,” one of the most powerful pieces of dad-rock in Al Cam’s catalog, rides a fast-paced piano tune as Cameron delivers a heart-wrenching account of day to day life prior to getting served.
Though not as instantly identifiable as Cameron’s previous two records, Miami Memory is loaded with tracks that are amusing, introspective and vibrant (certainly a few will become staples at Cameron’s renown live show). He has always been emotionally invested in his own music and writing, the songs speak for themselves. In embracing the comfort and the perils of love, his work is still wildly entertaining.
Favorite tracks: Stepdad, Miami Memory, Far From Born Again, Bad for the Boys, End is Nigh, Divorce