In the statement announcing his third LP, Miami Memory, Australian singer Alex Cameron said he didn’t intend for his 10 new songs to contain twists or jokes. Nor did he intend for them to cause discomfort. He also insisted the songs are based on actual events, “[s]pecific but never esoteric. And graphic but never offensive.” Cameron did, however, intend for the album to be a gift to his girlfriend of three years, actress Jemima Kirke. On Miami Memory, Cameron extols the beauty of love while singing about sex, family, and responsibility with unabashed candour. But he never shies away from the ugly sides of love, the trying demands of commitment.
Between Cameron’s debut album, 2013’s Jumping the Shark, and his next album, 2017’s Forced Witness, he leapt from lo-fi synth-pop to high-definition 80s pop, as well as classic rock in the vein of Bruce Springsteen. Like those albums, Miami Memory features Cameron’s secret weapon, the sax-blowing, life-saving Roy Molloy. Producer Jonathan Rado, who worked on Forced Witness, has also returned on Miami Memory. The result is less bombastic but more nuanced in its arrangements; with help from Molloy and Rado, Cameron has delivered his most musically sophisticated album yet.
Cameron’s previous albums were populated by detestable characters. They were toxic men, lonely, desperate, and washed up. They acted out in frustration. He often sang from their perspective, but on Miami Memory, he sings as himself. He appears on the album’s cover shirtless, baring himself rather than donning a persona. True to his word, the emotion on Miami Memory feels genuine.
Contrary to Cameron’s insistence, however, Miami Memory contains plenty of discomforting moments recounted in graphic and humorous detail. Some of that discomfort stems from domestic scenarios. On opener “Stepdad,” Cameron speaks to Kirke’s children. As he prepares to leave for a reason he doesn’t disclose to the listener (presumably, he’s going on tour), he is in the midst of quarrelling with her. “And your mom’s yelling out that she hopes I don’t come back.” He bestows words of comfort and wisdom before he leaves: “Don’t forget what I told you about your demons. They’re just thoughts in your head while you sleep, no more than that.” He further advises: “But if you see my name in the headlines, and they’re all pissing on me, I’m your stepdad.” He’s either encouraging his stepchildren to stand up for him or to protect themselves by disassociating from him.
“Far from Born Again” demonstrates one of the biggest differences between Miami Memory and Cameron’s previous albums. Miami Memory is less focused on mocking toxic men and more focused on raising up women. “She’s just a woman in charge of her plan,” he sings of the protagonist. “It ain’t your God-damn business if she does it for pay. Far from born again, she’s doing porn again.” The men in the song are “angry little dogs, but she don’t care what they say. Same men that tell her stop are the same suckers that pay,” he sings, calling out the hypocrisy surrounding sex work.
But insecure and politically malcontent men creep into Miami Memory, too; they’re just not as boastful or confrontational as they once were. Cameron renders them in full colour on bouncy piano-pop number “Bad For the Boys.” These men get cancelled in the wake of sexual harassment claims. They hit women. They rage against the “grammar police” and the “PC brigade.” But times have changed, and their misconduct and crimes have caught up with them. “Now you’re living little lives without women and blaming them for all the change,” Cameron charges. “You thought the boys were gonna stay the same, but no one cares about your good old days.” He then effectively shuts down these men’s attempt to return to the way things used to be, brusquely adding: “And handsome Cory with his high school glory. Yeah, no one wants to hear those fucking stories.”
Even Miami Memory’s most sentimental and romantic moments are strewn with humour. “Holding your hand at the strip club, holding your hand at the beach, holding your hand just to make sure you’re never too far out of reach,” Cameron sings on the title-track, which he calls “the most honest, truthful thing I’ve ever written.” More explicitly, he continues: “Watching you dance all night long. Watching you pleasure a woman while I sit and carry on.” He recounts all the places he and Kirke have made love: in her momma’s bed, on the floor, in a hotel room with the door open. He also recalls extremely private details: “Eating your ass like an oyster. The way you came like a tsunami.”
Miami Memory’s raunchy romps are fun for a laugh, but it’s best when Cameron is straightforward about his love for Kirke. On “Other Ladies,” his take on slow-paced gospel, he declares his devotion to her. “I’m gonna let you scroll right through my phone because there ain’t nothing to see but pictures of Miami…. From now on, it’s you and me. I don’t even need those other ladies.”
Cameron reaffirms his devotion on the next song, album closer “Too Far.” In a spoken passage, he tries to envision life without her. “It’d be a dark place,” he realizes. He can’t comprehend why she’s mistreated by others, but he doesn’t care why either. He celebrates her by reminding her she’s “a motherfucking powerhouse” of a mother and an artist.
Despite all the debauchery, miscreants, and misguided pursuits of pleasure on Forced Witness, the album ended with “Politics of Love,” a pure and joyous ode to love. Similarly, “Too Far” offers a happy ending to an album pockmarked by the trials of love.
review by Leslie Chu