He has Springsteen’s penchant for character-building and ‘80s pop prowess, but his muses aren’t down and out blue-collar workers. Rather, they’re sleazy hustlers, manipulative gaslighters, and lurid abusers. After the occasional glimpse of sincerity on Miami Memory, Cameron’s latest effort, Oxy Music, sees him recounting another set of desperate loners, addicts, and lost souls in a record reportedly inspired by the opioid crisis.
However, these characters aren’t quite the loudmouth homophobes and misogynists he satirized with his early work. Oxy Music is more accurately about a very modern form of disaffection; hyper-online, hyper-medicated, and entirely disillusioned about the state of the world. Opener “Best Life” and “Sara Jo” set the stage, tracing the outline of a man lost in the online space, whose obsession with content has taken over every inch of his life (“But, my God / If you are listening / Give me a sign and let me know what to believe in / Or I just might post something”).
From there, Cameron dives into the world of addiction, with the upbeat melodies of “Prescription Refill” soundtracking the early highs and the dark and textured balladry of “Dead Eyes” representing rock bottom. That spiral is sketched in true Alex Cameron style: with plenty of one-liners and standout sax solos from Roy Molloy. His suave croon and potent pop melodies are as infectious as ever, and his backing band once again breathes immaculate new life into their particular strain of kitschy ‘80s soft rock and synth pop. The shuffling rhythms on “Hold the Line,” indelible melodies of “K Hole,” and fantastic sax solo on “Dead Eyes” are all quintessential Alex Cameron.
Similarly, the lyrics are some of Cameron’s best, though he approaches his characters from a new angle. On Oxy Music, Cameron portrays his characters as tragic rather than comic or shocking. That fits better for a record about the lows of addiction, but it also makes for some of Cameron’s darkest thematic material yet. “Hold the Line” sees Cameron confessing “I’ve been fucking my life up baby / And I’m dying from misery…They’re telling me to hold the line but these lines have got a hold on me.” Later, he paints a dark picture of denial on “K Hole.” He pushes his loved ones away as he descends deeper into addiction, insisting that “there’s only room for one in a K hole.”
However, not everything on the record lands well. “Cancel Culture,” outside of a clever flip on the titular phrase, ends up feeling like the rare lyrical dud from Cameron. He takes great glee poking fun at the hysteria of cancel culture, as well as the whining attitude of the canceled. But in doing so, the song doesn’t say much of substance. What’s more, as much as Cameron delivers on pop hooks, there’s nothing here that feels quite as bold instrumentally as the more widescreen moments on Forced Witness or Miami Memory. In fact, Cameron himself sounds unusually subdued for much of the record.
The resulting album feels pulled in differing directions. Cameron sometimes feels like less a provocateur than a character artist. His lyrics are less outrageous and draw even more from black comedy, yet he also throws a song about cancel culture into the mix and ends the record on a manic, drug-fueled rager backed by Sleaford Mods’ James Williamson. Even so, Cameron still shows himself to be an endless source of pop hooks and clever lyrics. At their height, the tracks on Oxy Music are some of Cameron’s best, and his songwriting is often defter and more thoughtful than ever. The record is another shift in perspective, from an artist who hasn’t stopped moving since he set out.