Friday, April 2, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1462: Alex Cameron

I’m a little run down after a lot of late days at work, so this long weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.

Disc 1462 is…. Miami Memory

Artist: Alex Cameron

Year of Release: 2019

What’s up with the Cover?  Having been rejected a table at the local Appleby’s for having no shirt and (we assume) no shoes, Alex has returned to his room to stare wistfully off into space. While the particular expression on his face could mean a lot of things, I’m glad we can’t see his hands.

Behind Alex one of my least favourite art forms – the collage – treats us to a panoply of images that presumably represent memories.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review on Paste Magazine and it sounded interesting, so I checked it out. Often you gotta put in your own legwork to find new artists.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Alex Cameron album, so it can’t really stack up. However, I was so inspired by it I went through his back catalogue this week and I’m now on the hunt for two more, so a stack shall soon form.

Ratings: 4 stars

Every writer strives for complete openness and emotional vulnerability. Many claim it with the carefree nonchalance of the pass-card that comes with an office job. However, take it from someone who falls short again and again, the depth of vulnerability required to be a great writer takes a lot of fortitude; something Alex Cameron has to spare. He also has a natural talent for storytelling and writing pop hooks. Put it all together and you get an amazing record.

Cameron started out using a lot of synthesizer and electronic sounds, and on each successive album he’s drifted more and more into the organic. “Miami Memory” is his third and most recent effort, and while it is still driven a lot by piano and organ, the production feels the most ‘real’ of anything he’s done to date.

It’s stories also feel more intimate and introspective than ever before. The tunes are still upbeat, with melodies that float along effortlessly. At times they even have a dance pop feel, but they are grounded in stories that blend autobiographical content with fiction to the point where I wasn’t sure which stories were about Cameron, and which were about characters he’d created. In the end, it didn’t matter.

Stepdad” recounts a painful conversation a man is having with his stepchild, as he packs his bags at the end of a relationship. With the pain of a nasty breakup lurking in the background, the man tries to leave some good advice before he’s gone:

And now that you know why I'm leavin'
And your mum's yelling out that she hopes I don't come back
Of course she would say that

“Don't forget what I told you about your demons
They're just thoughts in your head while you sleep no more than that
Now fetch my duffle bag”

The man’s eventual advice to his step-kid is “treat your mom better”. The song is the most “synthy” on the record, with a simple organ call-and-answer bit that invites you to dance, even as Cameron’s words navigate one of life’s toughest moments.

On “Divorce” Cameron explores breakup from the more traditional perspective. Here the artificial organ is replaced by a more natural piano. The narrator dares his partner to call it quits, but with lines like:

“I got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch
If that's how you want to play it
I'm drinking in the dark because my battery's all ran out
All you got to do is say it – Divorce.”

It is clear the dare is already a foregone conclusion. As divorce songs go, this one is up there in the stratosphere with Liz Phair’s “Divorce Song”.

The album is incredibly sex positive. The title track is one of the most beautiful love songs in pop music. Alternating between sexually explicit scenes and just the joy in sharing time and experience with your partner, this is a tune that takes the often tired structure of a love song to a new level.

On “Far From Born Again,” Cameron defends sex workers, making it clear how a woman makes a living – or uses her body – is exactly no one’s business but her own. Amen. The song also features an incredible pop hook, and some first-rate phrasing.

Speaking of great phrasing, remember “The Boys Are Back in Town”? I couldn’t get it out of my head while listening to Cameron’s artful rebuttal, “Bad for the Boys” which (I believe) has both a title and composition deliberately designed to evoke the Thin Lizzy tune. Cameron talks about how tough it is on all those bros out there bemoaning how they have to watch how they act and behave these days. No harassing women, no saying whatever the hell they want and even drops one line reminiscent of Springsteen’s “Glory Days”:

“Handsome Cory and his high school glory
No one wants to hear those fucking stories.”

By the end he confirms what you’ve been suspecting all along: he doesn’t feel bad for boys like this at all. The record is full of non-PC imagery and discussions on difficult topics but Cameron’s message to these boys is pretty clear: “Grow the fuck up and be accountable for your behaviour.” A fine reminder for every group of boys who have ever hit the bars for a night on the town, ever.

“Miami Memory” is an album I knew I liked, but I had no idea how much until I took the deep delve the CD Odyssey demands. Given his upward trajectory, I can’t wait to hear what he comes out with next.

Best tracks: Stepdad, Miami Memory, Far From Born Again, Bad for the Boys, End is Nigh, Divorce

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