It’s been nearly a decade since Alex Cameron developed a penchant for a persona. In 2013 he slipped into the character of a failed entertainer on ‘Jumping The Shark’, a solo debut defined by thickly trowelled-on parody and irony – what he tries to leave behind three albums later on 2022’s ‘Oxy Music’, his response to the mass opioid addiction that has swept America, and more pointedly, the question ‘how easy would it be to slip into addiction?’
Does Cameron’s music stand up when you strip back all the conceptual jargon, costumery and media-release philosophising? In 2019, NME found Cameron’s previous studio effort ‘Miami Memory’ “a semi-sincere album”. ‘Oxy Music’ is much the same. Love song ‘Prescription Refill’ is adorned with sanguine saxophone wails, multi-voiced harmonies promising “You fill my prescription baby, just wait ’til I get my hands on you, I’ll fix that addiction honey, and if that won’t do…gonna dance for you”. The lush ‘K Hole’ falls somewhere between Pet Shop Boys and Tears For Fears. Cameron’s synthpop, no matter how sagacious, still suffers from a depletion of emotional authenticity.
Nevertheless, ‘Oxy Music’ is still a convincing portrayal of addiction and the associated desperation and self-illusions. The closing title track is all boxy sunshine synths, with a trippy “wah-oh, yeah!” refrain for extra pep. Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson delivers a blistering punk-rap about being a cheap date who can quit the pills at any time. Cameron plays the part of a codeine-addled loner who is trying to fool himself that though he’s sailing on a high, he’s not an addict.
The contrast between Cameron’s melodic, pop-friendly vocals and Williamson’s rough-edged rabble-rousing depicts two sides of addiction – the illusory peace of being on a high and the savage-edged snarl of reality as the drugs lose their potency.
Perhaps to lighten the mood, ‘Cancel Culture’ is intended to call out the ignorance shown by artists who appropriate elements of other cultures, diluting and demeaning the value of the original material. “I didn’t mean to insult ya, all that’s left to do is cancel culture,” croons Cameron. “She said, she said, ‘I’m sorry I did it, but I can’t see what’s wrong with it?’”
Playing it straighter is New York-based skateboarder and rapper Lloyd Vines, who punctures the playful keys-and-drum machine foundation with punky, rhymes about hypocrites and “lily white” hip-hop fans who appropriate phrases, words and language without any idea of their legacy.
Cameron’s conceptual synthpop is let down by a lack of musical dynamism and emotional directness. He has the vocal chops and capacity for it: ‘Dead Eyes’ lands with the gravitas of Lou Reed or perhaps even Brandon Flowers (with whom Cameron has worked as a co-writer on The Killers’ ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ and ‘Imploding The Mirage’) at his candid and anthemic best.
When Cameron leaves his deliciously smooth voice untreated, as he does on ‘Dead Eyes’, it has a delicate intimacy that worms right into your brain’s emotional centre and makes a home there. When he pares back the production and lets his humanity emanate, he’s compelling. ‘Oxy Music’ will leave you yearning for more of such heartfelt, magic moments.
- Release date: March 11
- Record label: Secretly Canadian