Alex Cameron is no stranger to guises and personas. For his debut, 2013’s Jumping the Shark, Cameron quite hilariously adopted the mindset of an already past-his-prime singer. Starting with 2019’s Miami Memory, Cameron became more comfortable with dropping the more highfalutin concepts in favour of heightened storytelling between songs and more engaged, personal, and tough. Now, Cameron has released his most engaging and enthralling album yet, Oxy Music.
Cameron had always been known for his dry wit and top-notch songwriting. Previous tunes like ‘Far From Born Again’ and ‘Real Bad Lookin’ could juggle topics like sex work and substance abuse with a potent mix of grounded reality and fantastical whimsey. But he’s never pulled it all together in the way he does on Oxy Music, which is nine straight songs of candy-coated barbed wire that still goes down easy.
There’s something darkly apocalyptic hovering just below the surface of Oxy Music. Opening track ‘Best Life’ encourages the listener to keep their head up among the mile-a-minute reality of living online, but it’s not long before the sinister cracks begin to show. ‘Sara Jo’ looks for the source of who is destroying the central family dynamic of the song, while the answer lies in the vast realm of misinformation and echo chamber rhetoric that has seeped out of the internet and into everyday life.
So Cameron looks for an escape. Intoxicating love is the first attempt at numbing the pain on ‘Prescription Refill’, but clearly, that isn’t working as well as the more synthetic forms of hiding away, starting with the addictive junk of ‘Hold the Line’. The album’s title isn’t just a pun on the legendary 1970s art-rock band, it’s also a reminder that hard drugs are always at the forefront of the album and creeping around its dingy corner. It’s incredibly dark, even for someone like Cameron who has never shied away from the thornier realities of the world.
And yet, beneath all those anxiety-filled observations is some of the most exciting and invigorating music that Cameron has ever produced. Heavenly sounding synths, deep rhythmic grooves, squealing saxophones, and a silky smooth delivery from Cameron makes all of the terrors hiding in the lyrics seem like a welcoming bed of comfort. Plenty of artists have contrasted their words and their music before, but few have done it with the grace and precision that Cameron employs on Oxy Music.
Throughout the album, Cameron expertly toes the line between being timely and being timeless. Certain references will forever keep Oxy Music in 2022: specific references to vaccines, transition lenses, malaria. But Cameron also positions those elements as lasting a lot longer than any of us probably want to admit. The challenges may seem different, but they are just evolved versions of what society deals with all the time: disease, economic disillusionment, and rising levels of stupidity. The escapes are the same too: pills, powders, and prescriptions.
As Cameron transitions into the album’s second half, Cameron continues to rope in the stressors: mental health on ‘Breakdown’, more drug domination and internet paranoia on ‘K Hole’, and the shared misery of addiction in ‘Dead Eyes’. Cameron manages to not completely fall on his face by basing a song around ‘Cancel Culture’, but it’s easily the album’s biggest stumbling point. It’s broad and satirical, which saves the song from being a complete whiff, but it’s oddly placed on an album that is other so incisive in its observations. This will likely be the song that most frequently becomes the victim of the skip button in the future. Thankfully, Cameron manages to stick the landing with the album’s title track, featuring a gonzo feature from Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson.
Most importantly, Cameron never lets his insights overpower the listening experience. As an expert hook finder, Cameron continues to pull the magic trick of making you stop and think about the extremely sad words he just sang to you that you didn’t catch the first time. That’s because each song has an undeniable catchiness that makes it easy to just sit back and groove to the album with your brain turned off. Oxy Music is Cameron at his most thematic and consistent in terms of style and tone, but it also features his most densely packed set of earworms ever collected in one place.
There’s a very good chance that Alex Cameron has already released the best album of 2022, and we’re only three months in. Oxy Music is an album that is so gracefully designed and invigorating on its surface, but incredibly thoughtful and complex underneath the surface, that it’s destined to be an all-time high watermark for the artist. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise when someone is hitting their apex, but here it’s incredibly easy: Alex Cameron is at the peak of his powers right now, and he has his first certifiable classic with Oxy Music.