The album artwork for Miami Memory shows a shirtless Alex Cameron. The artist is pictured in front of a wall plastered with photos, postcards and paintings. Sky scrapers, sea shells, polaroids depicting sections of naked flesh. One small image shows the singer, dancing. Another photo shows half of the face of Cameron’s actor/artist partner, Jemima Kirke. This is a mood board of memory, and a celebration of the now. It sets the tone of negotiations that unfold throughout the artist’s third studio album.
Where previous albums have seen Alex Cameron theatrically inhabit the persona of his songs’ narrators, this new sequence of material shows the artist stepping boldly into himself. The album is more than an offering of love to Kirke, it is also an under-lining of why some men do some of the things that they do.
Critics of Cameron have leveled confused and accusatory fingers at his past albums. When toxic behavior or machismo was explored, detractors lazily attributed the content of his work and performances as celebratory. This critique is about as sensible as believing Johnny Cash really killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
By Cameron’s side is saxophonist Roy Molloy. Molloy, forever described as Cameron’s business partner and associate, lends direction to the timbre of the sequence. Like Clarence Clemons to Springsteen, the gravitational pull of Molloy offers the singer a northern star by which to navigate, experiment, and experience the fullness of constellations without losing course.
Instrumentation and production here feels more ambitious, or is it just better-realized, than previous work? There’s a depth and breadth of reach that, as always, leans on Cameron’s fondness for 80’s synth patterns, but his view is also lifted. Progressions sail away from the limits of loyalty to fictional characters. The regular palette of Casio-sounding keyboards is celebrated and moved beyond. The personal disclosures shared across the lyrical content lend a gravity which demands more from the musical elements. And the musical elements are often staggeringly beautiful. What Cameron and Molloy achieve with melody is nothing short of a call to anyone with ears; issuing challenge, surprise and reward
From the outset, ‘Stepdad’ pins Cameron’s concerns to the mast. A bold first track measures confidence and moral duty against the insecurity of stepping into a new role; that of being stepfather to a partner’s child. It’s unsurprising that Cameron, with his fascination for the spectrum of male archetypes, would tackle the dynamic involved in becoming a stepfather. What is surprising is the angle that the singer finds to pour light through. From a flawed humanity, where the simian reality of a man reaches with spiritual aspiration, paternal perspective and advice is issued. Few writers can conjure such sweet, defiant, real and reassuring tear-jerkers.
The entire sequence of Miami Memory is punctuated by moments where tears of all kind are appropriate, sing-alongs are essential, and dancing would be sensible. The title track discusses nostalgia of the now. The adult behaviors that we all enjoy whilst hoping to make things memorable are pegged out. A lyrical hook that includes the highly singable ‘Eating your ass like an oyster, the way you came like a tsunami’ deserves to be sung by stadiums of sports fans. May Cameron’s celebratory metaphor encourage many other men to do the right thing.
The entire album is densely populated with lyrical pun, magic, poetry. This is the kind of stuff other artists wait years to achieve. “mother-fucking futons” stand as pitiful totems of divorce. A sex worker is “Far from born again, she’s doing porn again.” And for all the celebratory playfulness of rhyme, Cameron accomplishes a depth of understanding that points to empathy, heart and compassion for each of his subjects.
Tracks like ‘Far From Born Again’, ‘Gaslight’, ‘Bad For The Boys’, ‘PC With Me’ are perhaps more explicitly political, and confrontational than other tracks. However, even when Cameron fronts an ugly opponent like ‘Phil, he lost his chill’ he laments the situation that gave rise to toxic masculinity, or the sense of dislocation felt between haters – he blames the game, as much as he does the players. This is not the only place in a complicated album where the artist sees the solution to pain and conflict as being compassion.
If Alex Cameron’s work before now has been about people and perspectives, this album is about circumstance and understanding. He does stand naked in front of Kirke. His hands are aloft, but not in surrender. This sequence is about the discovery of an equal, and a celebration of that discovery – even if the route to realization has been tough.
Closing track ‘Too Far’ directly addresses Kirke. It’s a brave, beautiful piece of work. People the world over will be making memes, ‘I want someone to sing to me the way Alex speak-sings to Jemima’. ‘Cos what is love if not empowering, terrifying, courageous, wild, deferent, and ultimately human?
On Miami Memory Alex Cameron meets issues of political suspicion, toxic masculinity, and co-dependency. In the universal he champions the underdog, does what he can to level the field, and like in the video for ‘Far From Born Again’ he literally hands the mic to those with marginalized voices. In the personal he produces something that Rainer Maria Rilke would describe as protecting the solitude of the other (his lover). It’s exquisite stuff.
Oscillating between personal sincerity and theatric otherness Alex Cameron has delivered a mature piece of art that is beyond the landscape. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, albums like this are capable of leaning back into the culture, and shaping significant change for the good.
Footnote – Alex Cameron is an artist that once said he invites critics; he likes to listen, address concerns and improve his practice. That being the case, we’d like to request higher woodblock levels, and an extended remix of the title track. Other than that, and maybe asking Roy Molloy to dance more in videos, you’re all good mate.
HURRY – BUY – ALEX CAMERON MUSIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS RHODES