Thursday, July 13, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1658: Alex Cameron

Welcome back gentle readers, where in the last few albums we’ve been taking a scroll through the twenties. The 2020s! Here’s one from last year.

Disc 1658 is…Oxy Music

Artist: Alex Cameron

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Compared to a lot of Alex Cameron covers, this guy looks positively normal. Unlike Jumping the Shark and Forced Witness he doesn’t present as a low-level street thug, and unlike Miami Memory, he’s not a shirtless psychotic.

Which is not to say he does not look psychotic. He definitely looks psychotic. I’m just saying it’s a step up. Psychotic, but wearing a shirt.

How I Came To Know It: I have been an Alex Cameron fan since 2019, and have busily dug into his catalogue since. I decided to give this album a go when it came out.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Alex Cameron albums. Of those four, “Oxy Music” comes in at…#4. Someone had to be last. Also, since there is (for now) the last Alex Cameron album in my collection, here’s a handy recap:

  1. Miami Memory: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1462)
  2. Forced Witness: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1477)
  3. Jumping the Shark: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1589)
  4. Oxy Music: 3 stars (reviewed right here)

Rating: 3 stars

Alex Cameron’s early records are conceptual pieces built around a narrator who is a sort of failed actor/failed singer sleaze ball. It is awesome to listen to these stories, and even when the character is despicable, it is fun to look in on their squalid lives.

On “Oxy Music” Cameron shifts his creatives focus a few degrees, and explores drug culture in America, and the characters that inhabit it. Cameron matches up the production decisions on the record to a warm bath of synth and horn that matches the subject matter well. Some criticized his approach but having just given this record a good five or so listens, I can confirm for you that these critics are wrong. This production is built on empty happiness – and thus a big part of the metaphor that is getting explored.

It helps that Cameron can write a pop hook with a skill that is matched by few. Like him or hate him, these tunes are toe tappers, often in innovative ways you may not have heard before. Oxy Music also follows up on the strong vocal performance of 2019’s “Miami Memory” with more solid singing. Cameron won’t blow your speakers out with his range or power, but he has a high tone that is breathy or skeevy as each lyric requires. He has the natural phrasing of an actor, which makes sense given the characters he inhabits.

The tunes, as the theme requires, feature a LOT of drug references. Obvious ones like “They’re telling me to hold the line/but these lines have got a hold on me” to the more obscure, like:

“I don't wanna sound like an A-hole
I don't want you to think I'm ungrateful
See the credit cards on the table?
Never try to hide in a K-hole”

The songs have a dreamy quality that evokes the drug use itself, tinged with sadness and disconnection that comes with addiction. Cameron also manages to find time for his usual devil-may-care social commentary. By devil-may-care, Cameron doesn’t worry too much which side of a debate he’ll come out on, content with saying it and daring someone to be offended. “Sara Jo” and “Cancel Culture” both explore topics while tucked safely within characters that are not him. The listener can still take offence at the art itself, as Cameron no doubt welcomes.

The record doesn’t explore a lot of new ground, and at nine songs/33 minutes of running length it needed a little bit more meat on the bone. The only long song on the record is the title track, which drags a bit, but can be forgiven since it features the killer vocals of Sleaford Mods’ singer Jason Williamson.

“Oxy Music” doesn’t break a ton of new ground, but it isn’t often music gives you a deep dive into drug culture from the perspective of the addict where it is performance art. It was refreshing to enjoy an album on the subject and not feel like I was taking advantage of an artist actually going through the experiences, as is usually the case.

If the album reads a little disingenuous because of that, well, at least no one got hurt and these are some quality pop tunes along the way.

Best tracks: Best Life, Sara Jo, K. Hole

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