Alex Cameron is as much a musician as a performance artist. He takes characters – usually that of an ordinary man, the kind of guy who frequents strip clubs and casinos on weekday afternoons. His work is deliberately provocative, deliberately transgressive and rarely serious. In an era of indie music that can sometimes seem so awake it’s suffocating, Cameron can feel like a breath of fresh air. He is a character from Harmony Korine of the Last Days: Alien in spring breakers playing Britney Spears on a piano with white-type cornrows and grills, or the titular Beach Bum strolling around the pool in a marabou-pink bathrobe. On the 2016 lo-fi opus, jump the shark, Cameron gave off the lucky wedding singer vibe while performing the B-sides of Suicide. About 2017 forced witness, he wrote a propulsive and oddly moving ’80s synth-pop ballad that involved rhyming “Down Syndrome Jew” with “the real estate crew.” His music, at its best, is a slightly problematic – but necessary – respite from the status quo, a good laugh.
Oxy Music is a different beast, but she’s not trying to be. Cameron’s fourth record tries all the same tricks that made his music so compelling earlier in his career, but with much less success. The sleazebag bit has aged and the character study work attempts to be transgressive but is actually just mundane and, most importantly, not particularly funny. The sound palette of the 80s that gave so much life to his first records has now become a pastiche. “Sara Jo” has a catchy melody, saxophone explosions and chintzy synths. But it’s catchy like a song in the grocery store, something metallic and distant. You sing along while learning about the calorie content of S’Mores Pop-Tarts, even though you don’t know the lyrics. Which, by the way, involves Cameron singing the line, “Who told my brother his kids were going to die from this vaccine?” a bunch of times.
Perhaps the only funny thing about the record is its name. It’s Roxy Music minus the “R”, a tribute to the drug known as Oxycontin. It’s pretty edgy stuff, which is a grim caveat to its less-than-convincing social commentary to be found within. Cameron tries to show that he’s a) totally not woke and not interested in being PC but also b) not like, a total nihilist, he’s totally a cool, self-aware, caring dude. Look no further than “Cancel Culture,” which is both a critique of cancel culture and a critique of people who think cancel culture is bad. “Lily-white/But I use ebonics when I’m online,” Cameron croons in a falsetto, “Cause it’s all dope/And I can barely hide it, baby.” He calls out the hypocrites and culture vultures with the kind of air of someone who thinks he’s enlightened, but the song’s meta nature makes it even more gooey than if it actually had something new or interesting to say about cancel culture, which is not. ‘t.
The thing is, Cameron wants you to think he’s totally in on the joke. You see, these songs are Assumed sound bad. But self-awareness only really takes you so far in an album that sounds like Costco-branded Roxy Music on purpose. The Spartan output is one of the weakest of Cameron’s career, consisting mostly of cheap software plugins and perhaps a handful of vintage synthesizers. More than anything, it takes on the quality of a short story written by a young college student trying to cram as many neons, bongs, uzis, blowjobs, thongs, and jokes into 10 pages as possible. For how clearly intelligent, ambitious and heartbreaking Cameron is, it’s a shame that he uses his talent for these exercises in sophistry, music that feels so empty and ephemeral that it becomes one with the very modernity that she seeks to ridicule. I guess that’s pretty funny.
Buy: Raw Trade