Direct, unique, singer-song-actor
Separating the artist from the art is a task made more difficult when it is not entirely clear whether or not the artist has made this distinction themselves. Alex Cameron spent large parts of his first two albums, Jumping the Shark and Forced Witness, inhabiting various characters, singing through varied voices and wearing different masks—at times quite literally. Miami Memory leaves some of his most drastic theatrics behind to compile a set of more personal material.
For those who have become accustomed, or perhaps enamored with Cameron’s overly-direct delivery, there is still plenty of snark, sleaze and sarcasm to satisfy. Even in the most intimate moments of the collection, the auteur can not help but lay bare his true thoughts and feelings in a manner so unapologetic that some listeners will find uncomfortable. The tone of the music and often unusual instrumentation further blur the lines between real and imagined, sincere and disingenuous.
Syncopated vocals push aside the almost comically synthesized opening beat to “Stepdad.” Although not the first musician to tackle the subject, Cameron deftly performs a bit of misdirection with auto-biographical lyrics devoid of any subtlety. The trick within the seemingly-basic instrumentation and antipoetic prose is the catchy melody and multi-part chorus that beg for multiple sing-along listenings. Piano based “Miami Memory” follows with even more direct verses and a couple of graphically detailed lines about a romantic encounter. On previous albums, it is an alter ego singing the story. On this effort, one feels confident that Cameron himself is the composer and the voice.
“Far From Born Again” giddily attacks those critical of sex-workers with the help of a peppy tune. “Gaslight” sounds so deceptively earnest that Cameron feels the need to clue the audience in the hope that they grasp the real message. Change the name of the title and remove the lines containing the word “gaslight” and one would likely believe the track to be a heartfelt love song. “Bad For The Boys” completes the mid-album trio of takedown songs directed at some of Cameron’s real-life demons. The lyrics can stand on their own. “Paddling drunk through airports/ on a raft of plastic bongs,” is one way of describing aimless bro-culture. Rhyming “Prague” with “Guttentag” as bookends to a segment involving sodomy is simultaneously crude and witty.
Musically, a couple listens may be required to uncover some of the memorable melodies and brief, but nice, instrumental parts. The quirky instrumentation and choice of sounds contrast with the lyrics in such a way that is jarring at first. Miami Memory is also notable for the maturation of Cameron’s voice. Most of the songs feature more open vocals, compared to the gruff, world-weary timbre of past albums.
It is in the last two tracks where honest writing separates Miami Memory from its predecessors. “Other Ladies” revisits the mood of “Gaslight,” but with a stronger song and real caring instead of sarcasm. “Too Far” shines as one of the best tunes in the set. A heavy-synth anthem, echoing the sentiments from the previous song, it finishes triumphantly with great backing vocals and a spoken-word conclusion that would be out of place almost anywhere outside of an Alex Cameron endeavor. On his best work yet, Cameron still appears to be more artist than musician, but it turns out that he’s a pretty good musician too.