The archly comic musician, who has formerly adopted toxic fictional personas, dials down the irony for a semi-sincere album that feels tonally awkward
Alex Cameron has flare for painting different caricatures, to the point that it’s often difficult to discern where the blurry lines between fiction and reality overlap. Over the years the Australian has donned wrinkly prosthetics for his art and modelled himself on an ageing Z-Lister with a failed talk show career and rock star ambition. One record he’s also depicted everyone from an incel-forum trawling loser to a pathetic homophobe – portraying each character with unforgiving precision.
On his last album, ‘Forced Witness’, Cameron attempted to dismantle the patriarchy by inhabiting the minds of 10 different misogynist men, his sincere portrayals drenched in a complicated layer of irony. It was toxic masculinity with a comedy wink, which raised some questions. Several times, the artist deployed slurs such as “faggot” and “pussy” in an arch and satirical fashion – channelling somebody else’s voice.
He’s a gifted songwriter, and the clarity of the voices on ‘Forced Witness’ only demonstrated his ability to fully charge a character further. But it also raises the question: what does Alex Cameron’s irony steeped parody of toxic masculinity add to the discussion, beyond demonstrating that he’s got some self-awareness?
On ‘Miami Memory’, these harsh caricatures have softened. Often Cameron turns his attention to depicting strong women instead. It makes a relieving change from the procession of hateful men. Many of these songs are written for his partner Jemima Kirke, and Cameron’s jokes feel less barbed and biting. There’s a skip in his step as he deploys zingers such as “eating your ass like an oyster / The way you came like a tsunami” from‘Miami Memory’, a true contender for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
The record closes with Cameron’s most sincere release to date. ‘Too Far’ sees him directly addressing Kirke without a degree of vocal showboating: “I only care that you’re mine / For as long as you’ll allow me... You can never go too far”. Melodically there’s consistent bombast – the record opens with ‘Stepdad’s wonky sound, sounding like an orchestra disco epic played on a Fisher Price keyboard.
‘Miami Memory’ becomes a slipperier prospect when Cameron’s usual ironic schtick reappears. The sax-riddled ‘Far From Born Again’ was written to attempt to destigmatize sex work and voice his support, Cameron has explained previously. Perhaps its his groundings in ironic personas, or perhaps it’s clumsier couplets such as “far from born again / She’s doing porn again”, but women inadvertently feel like the butt of the joke here.
The lighter-waving anthem ‘Gaslight’ – which adopts the narrative of an expert manipulator – feels jarring in the context of this semi-sincere record. And delivered from the perspective of a surprisingly sympathetic narrator, who begins to pity men who face sexual harassment claims, ‘Bad For the Boys’ doesn’t land squarely in its ribbing of male fragility. Perhaps that’s the cost of being an artist who plays characters so convincingly.
Release date: September 13
Record label: Secretly Canadian