A title like Oxy Music evokes scenes of decadence and hedonism. Alex Cameron knows that. That’s probably one of the reasons why it’s the title of his latest album. The cover emphasizes this idea: crisp white lettering and a faded, blurry portrait of the Aussie musician practically ask you to stick an “R” on the front of Oxy.
But like those famously decadent artistic rockers, Cameron also knows the limits and pitfalls of hedonism. For all the delights of Cameron’s sly croon, witty lyrics, sleek production and pristine pop tunes, Oxy MusicThe take on addiction, paired with clever and sensitive digs into online culture, is almost as heartbreaking and powerful as Neil Young’s. Tonight is evening.
Oxy Music opens with “Best Life,” a mid-tempo number about putting your best foot forward on social media and not yet reaching the next step. The guy in the song does everything you’re supposed to do – leaves comments, brags about his accomplishments (“There’s no such thing as the feeling/Of when you do something”), exchanges “a follow for a follow-up” – but he still can’t get noticed by the girl he likes. People tell him not to worry, but he ignores them, “Because you’ve never been online.” Not that he gets too worried: “Yeah, when they ask how you’re doing… You say, ‘I’m here/’I’m living my best life.'”
The music for “Best Life” reflects this fake-until-you-make-it mentality. The melody is so sunny and the production so brilliant that they’re like the sonic equivalent of JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” lens flare. All of this beauty might trick the listener into ignoring the anxiety and loneliness at the heart of the song.
Cameron follows this all-too-relevant vignette with the even grimmer “Sara Jo” about a woman who is out to kill someone over the bs her family absorbs online. “Who told my brother that his children were going to die because of this vaccine? she asks on the chorus. “Who told my mom she’d never find love, nobody? / Who told my dad he didn’t have to pay for advice?”
Next comes the bluster “Prescription Refill,” which puts a new spin on the phrase “love is the drug.” A young suitor promises to cure his daughter’s “addiction” by telling her, “You fill my prescription, baby.” The mood is so cheerful and playful – the boy charmingly calls himself “a joke told just for you” – that it masks the ominousness of this central metaphor.
But then comes “Hold the Line”, which abandons love and takes up drugs. That’s literally the drug addict in this song: “I’m wearing my flowery dress,” Cameron sings, “but I can’t even get it up.” He knows his mom and dad still love him, though, because parents of junkies “can’t see / The bags around our eyes and all the bruises on our thighs.” This time, a nimble disco beat and appealing melody can’t hide the seriousness of the subject.
Drug addiction is hard enough, but the protagonist of “Breakdown” has to deal with mental illness on top of that. “If I have depression,” he asks his girlfriend, “do you want to break up with me?” The song’s dreamy melody and rolling beat offer some hope that the couple can hold their own somehow.
For the couple in “K Hole,” the odds don’t seem so good. Over a steady R&B groove, the chemically addicted guy does his best to comfort his partner: “I promise when I fall, I’ll be graceful.” But in the end, she’d better cut her losses – as he says, “There’s only room for one in a K-hole.”
The next song’s “Dead Eyes” might belong to this guy a bit further down his downward spiral. As the beat picks up, Cameron sadly sings a “skinny white boy” looking for any kind of effect he can find. The bouncy, goofy “Cancel Culture” lightens the mood a bit, poking fun at awkward white people who imitate or appropriate black culture.
The album ends with the title track, which brings the mood back despite its springtime new wave rhythm. Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods helps Cameron tell the story of a man who takes whatever he can – ‘replacement fentanyl’, codeine and more. – and does anything for it. The song ends with a chanted intimation of suicide: “You only need one bullet in the gun.”
Does the dynamism of the music suggest he’s going to pull through? Put the odds at 1:1, but that might be too optimistic.
Follow journalist Ben Schultz on Instagram.com/benjamin.schultz1.