Genre: Synth Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Miami Memory,” “Far From Born Again,” “Divorce”
Australian weirdo pop savant Alex Cameron’s third album is something of a turning point in the enigmatic career of an enigmatic artist. By starting his career with a record called JUMPING THE SHARK, Cameron immediately established himself as a divergent thinker, and would go on to solidify that reputation as a thoroughly unique songwriter with his standout sophomore record, FORCED WITNESS, in 2017. Cameron is the closest thing we have to a modern day Randy Newman, someone who assumes the roles of deeply problematic and sometimes even irredeemably detestable characters and sings from their points of view in order to highlight their intense flaws, and in doing so also highlight the same flaws in society at large.
MIAMI MEMORY represents something of a crossroads for him as an artist, as he attempts to not only follow up his incredibly memorable previous album, but also explores new tacts both musically and lyrically. The results are mixed, but mostly positive. Cameron has stated that this album was recorded for and in dedication to his girlfriend, GIRLS actor Jemima Kirke, and as such, the record takes the most sincerely personal bent to date. For the first time, MIAMI MEMORY finds Cameron often singing not from the perspective of one of his many personas, but from his own. The opening track, “Stepdad,” is a fascinating look at what happens when Cameron fuses his signature satirical writing style with a more honest and open perspective of his actual personal life. On top of a simple but syncopated synth-driven arrangement reminiscent of his debut album, Cameron puts on a high-wire balancing act of lyricism, painting himself as a profoundly imperfect and vulnerable man trying to project a sort of outward fatherly strength to a child that isn’t his. In 1984, Springsteen sang “I’m a cool rockin’ daddy in the USA”; 25 years later, Alex Cameron sings “I know they say that I’m frail and broken, but you can’t treat your mom that way.”
The title track of the album is simply a clear and open love song that nevertheless carries with it a signature hint of depravity. The song’s instrumentation is driven almost entirely by fraying and clipping percussion, sonically nearly tearing apart at the seams, a touch that calls to mind the work of one of Cameron’s closest contemporaries, Kirin J. Callinan. Pair this with lyrics that evoke imagery of cellulite massages, eating ass, and drowning in a locked car underwater, and you’ve got yourself one of the album’s most delightfully layered and memorable tracks. Cameron follows this with another heater, a wonderfully catchy pro-sex worker anthem “Far From Born Again.” Opening right off the bat with an infectious hook and horn part courtesy of stalwart sax man Roy Molloy, “Far From Born Again” finds Cameron venerating the independent sex worker, painting these oft-maligned and stigmatized women as fully realized and productive members of modern society. It’s an empowering song, furthered still by a music video that functions as a platform for actual sex workers to present their profession in their own words. It’s one of the better songs of Cameron’s career, parlaying a killer melody, a smooth and swanky arrangement, and a powerful and vital message into a no-doubt album highlight.
It’s here in the record that Cameron takes a turn back towards his usual writing style with the track “Gaslight,” a song that closely approximates what it would sound like if Tom Petty openly sang about emotionally abusing his romantic partners. The song serves as a backhanded takedown of “nice guys” and manipulators, and leads into another track concerned with toxic men and their behavior, “Bad For The Boys.” Adopting a Jim Croce-like soft rock bounce, the song uses “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”-style couplets to run down a series of repulsive and unattractive men, e.g. “Good old Dame, oh what a shame / He got done for a sexual harrassment claim” and “Handsome Corey with his high school glory / But no one wants to hear those fuckin’ stories.” At first the song seems sympathetic to these figures, but sours as it progresses, as Cameron ultimately concludes, “guess I don’t feel so bad for the boys.”
The B-side of MIAMI MEMORY doesn’t shine as brightly as the record’s first half, but it still carries its fair share of highlights as well. For one, it features the standout single “Divorce,” a track that musically hearkens back to BORN TO RUN-era Springsteen and features some superb Cameron lyricisms, including perhaps the most memorable line on the entire album. As the song reaches its tonal climax in the chorus, Cameron belts out with complete and unwavering conviction, “I’ve got friends in Kansas City with a motherfuckin’ futon couch / if that’s how you want to play it.” It’s a comedic stroke of genius to place such a pitiful statement at such a triumphant musical moment, and only helps to drive home the song’s self-effacing message. “Divorce” is immediately followed by “Other Ladies,” which is the most direct and sincere song that Cameron has ever written, a genuinely heartfelt and emotional love song that bears some resemblance to the recent work of Father John Misty. Unlike much of this record, there is nothing subversive or underhanded about “Other Ladies,” and as such, it functions as a refreshing breath of fresh air in the track list, a shot of sweet sincerity to a loved one amongst a series of songs that mostly carry either darker or broader implications.
MIAMI MEMORY is far from perfect, falling slightly short of FORCED WITNESS in terms of the immediate impact of its songs; songs in the middle of the album fall more on the forgettable side, and the album genuinely suffers from a relative shortage of Roy Molloy on saxophone—we need more horn! It’s a relative miss by indie producer extraordinaire Jonathan Rado; many of the songs here sound great, but a few fall victim to mixing issues, like “Stepdad,” which blossoms nicely in the choruses but is somewhat overpowered by the blaring synths that anchor the instrumentation. Perfection is not a reasonable standard, however, and on MIAMI MEMORY the positives far outweigh the issues. What issues do exist can largely be chalked up to artistic growing pains, and Cameron has nicely developed his sound further, explored new songwriting styles, delivered more salient cultural commentary, and come out the other side mostly successful in his efforts.