Alex Cameron’s funhouse-mirror persona has been the main log-line of his career so far: a dirtbag crooner alter-ego, seemingly culled from the likes of Freddie Mercury, Jarvis Cocker, Joe Strummer and Bryan Ferry (of, ahem, (R)oxy Music). His provocative style was a hallmark of past records, knowingly prodding at the boundaries of subtlety and good taste. That goading is still present in a big way here on Oxy Music, but the songs feel more down-to-earth, a continuation of the trend established on 2019’s softer Miami Memory. Oxy Music fuses the stagiest elements of Cameron’s past works with more immediate, and macro, subjects; at the core of the record are family traumas, deep-set anxieties, social media tics and, most notably, the opioid crisis at-large. Cameron leans into his jumpy renegade snarl throughout, but pulls all of this through a more honest, overt personal lens.
Oxy Music’s initial tracks are rooted in stability, or at least aspirations toward it. Album opener “Best Life” is a rich, dreamy disco-rock strut, seemingly a paean to Cameron’s recent sobriety, or other personal #triumphs: “There’s nothing like the feeling/Of when you do a thing, or just wake up like this/Like, what even is life?/I guess I’m just winning.” Moving with a confident gait from the start, Cameron falls in line with the song’s straight-and-narrow groove, silky pads and crisp unadorned production (save for some Bowie-esque saxes, fluttering on their own plane). On “Sara Jo,” he marches to a similarly trusty backbeat, but this time lashes out at the varying ways that misinformation have affected his grown siblings’ well-being: “Give me a sign and let me know what to believe in/Or I just might post something /Who pulled the curtains?/Who broke the screen?/Who told my brother that his kids are gonna die from this vaccine?” These are biting lyrics, delivered with cheeky confidence, but they’re darkly rewarding too—a fascinating rub against the song’s big and affirming “Radio Ga Ga” groove. Cameron’s got things so on lock with his subversive swagger in these first few tracks that he has nothing to lose by being so blunt.
At the record’s opposite pole though, it’s more of a challenge to keep this balance intact. Oxy Music quickly devolves by its close, with a pair of final tracks that feel reckless and unhinged on all fronts; at rock bottom, it’s a full pendulum swing away from the aforementioned tracks’ composure and kept cool. On the penultimate “Cancel Culture,” Cameron goes there with a smarmy diatribe/satire on the current cultural climate. He boasts woozily from the vantage of a tone-deaf “lily white boy”—“I use ebonics/when I’m online/because everything’s dope/and I can barely hide it, baby”—and weaves the song’s baited hook around an unsettlingly bouncy reggaeton groove: “If you’re worried about the vultures/only thing left to do is cancel culture.” (Abetting the hi-jinx here is special guest Lloyd Vines, playing Cameron’s raucous conscience, and voicing what Cameron himself isn’t even at liberty to say.)
The final title track offers more catharsis, but it’s no less anarchical, with Cameron falling back into the throes of aftermarket opioids (which he wryly deems a “codeine ragú”). Atop the song’s out-of-control treadmill stomp, which sounds like Phoenix hopped up on fentanyl, Cameron admits, “I couldn’t quit it/I’m a high white man run a mile in a minute/How could I kick it/When I’m so in it?” (The song also features some big hype from Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson, who, on-brand, is even more manic than Cameron: “I need a mirror and some lingerie/And get the fuck out of my way!”) By the song’s minute-long comedown, Cameron and his trampy elegance have collapsed into an unruly, and perhaps inevitable, heap.
That’s a whole lot of bluster and wild energy in just two tracks. Taken together, it’s basically the musical analog of a relapse. But double back a bit to the record’s middle—its eye of the hurricane, so to speak—and you’ll find Cameron more deftly, and organically, blending Oxy Music’s polarized modes, and his various selves in the process. “Hold the Line” is a pleasurable, angular dance-floor stomp that also keeps the pure well-wishes of family and friends on the mind. “K-Hole,” hooky, elegant and grand like a classic pop ballad (Beyoncé’s “Halo” comes to mind), is also just twisted enough to feature a pre-chorus about addiction that name-checks an Amphicar: “It might appear like/ I’m driving straight for the moat/Oh baby but it’s one of those cars/That turns into a boat.” And “Breakdown,” Oxy Music’s most dynamic track at the record’s dead center, feels both breezy and emotionally raw, featuring the record’s most compelling vocal take and its most poignant lines: “If I have a breakdown will you break up with me?/I’ve got a mental health record and they traced it to my family tree/If I have a breakdown will you break up with me?”
Cameron’s still able to cull up his darkest demons, at the brink of his own thoughts, but he proves he can keep his cool in the process. It’s in the middle sequence of Oxy Music that Cameron finds a true sweet spot, allowing his reckless past self and whatever clear-eyed crooner he’s metamorphosing into to fully fall in step with each other.
Label: Secretly Canadian
Ben Easton is a writer and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He's a member/producer of the rock quartet The Academy Blues Project, with whom he has made six records, and plays Live Piano Karaoke in-residence at Sid Gold's Request Room, New York City's flagship modern piano bar. Beyond Treble, Easton is a staff writer at Cover Me Songs, the web publication devoted to cover music of all genres.