Alex Cameron Jumping the Shark

[Secretly Canadian; 2016]

Styles: soulful irony, ironic soul, the heat death of the universe
Others: John Maus, books about Sinatra, Donald Trump’s Twitter

“Been in showbiz long enough/ You get a grip on how things work”

Fail, they say. Fail again, and fail better, as if failure is merely a means to an end, if one could only drill through to the other side of the mountain. But, in everything from our mortal bodies to the Blockbuster Twitter account as we hurtle thru the anthropocene, we ought be moved to ponder decline in more urgent terms than merely insisting on our own stubborn stick-toitive-ness. There’s a sweaty, glittery vein of critiques of inflamed masculine showbiz success, failure and the Comeback in Rock Music, but they all veer toward the lovingly venal; Spinal Tap, Elvis in Vegas, Father John Misty’s banal weirdbeard unquote-woke schtick. Largely, it’s without teeth, centering on foibles, the bizarreness of ambition, not so much the reckless cruelty that comes from being clueless about the present, certain of who you were in the past, and adamant that things be held just-so, because the Star is back, and he’s better than ever.

“I made a deal over lunch, it was worth 15k… I show so much teeth when I smile”

Staring past us from the cover, coated in pockmarked, hair slicked back like someone who definitely knows where to find H within three blocks of the train station in any CBD you name, the Alex Cameron on record is a very different prospect to the Alex Cameron who buys toothpaste and pays taxes. Here, he’s a nebulous, amorphous, delusional Every(uber)man past his vertiginous peak and marooned down low — a hovering afterimage of what the Star expects from reality. His delivery is low, wounded, yearning; despite the rockist structures, the keyboards and drum machines rattle in a pale imitation of the grandeur he’s seeking, like the last scene of Aguirre. He’s amorphous — here a Hong Kong trader, there a song and dance man getting his show back, elsewhere leering at his secretaries — but always the same type. Amid the pall of a new and unfamiliar reality, one where this figure finds himself no longer at the center of things, focusing on how to reel the world back, while never asking why.

“I spent some time making bird calls/ But none responded/ Out of fear”

Jumping the Shark, first released in 2013 but just now getting an American release, is timely. “Gone South” is either literally about being abandoned in the wilderness, or an allegory for the loss of fame, or neither. When Cameron finds someone else, a “tall guy” who is mistreating orphans — orphans of an audience like him — he’s told it’s all about survival. When Kierkegaard suggested that the real problem is that we know backwards, and live forwards, it was about how to survive; we exist on some point on a line between adapting ourselves to our environments and merely adapting our environments to suit us. On one side is learning how to make your own bore or something. On the other, all roads lead to Trump. When concessions to a changed reality are made, it’s about inserting oneself into it. When he starts a “new life/ on the internet,” he gets two modems, a fax machine, receptionists, business cards. He’s also got a masterplan. He is his own boss. He is the man. Getting the ‘net isn’t adaptation; it’s another sphere to dominate. One imagines he’d shut it down too, if need be.

“He told her a thousand times/ Not to stare when he gets wild”

Elsewhere, Cameron’s goals are far less nebulous. “I know I’m living with my folks now… I want a pheromone pension/ I’m still the king of this town.” The song is called “Happy Ending,” naturally, and finds Cameron dumping a reluctant date and heading for Chinatown. “She’s Mine” takes the staccato masc John Maus intimated to a kind of horror. “Lovers have such short careers.” “It’s just water,” he reminds us, as he pushes the glass over. It probably is, but the fact he has to say it speaks more than words ever could. Cameron is a deeply uncomfortable presence in his own album; even at his most abject — the drum machine tempo sags, his baritone plumbs low — he’s defiantly unpitiable. When he sparkles with intelligence or there’s a glimmer of humanity, it makes the rest all the more inexcusable. It is completely, ashamedly riveting.

“Why are you lookin’ at me like that/ I don’t need charity/ No need to be so condescending/ I been missin’ you baby”

While the closin’ “Takin’ Care of Business” is, on paper, the kind of slow-burner the Aforementioned Springsteen would want to have under his belt, the lyric sheet is harrowing, a lover’s spat in the Howard Hughes compound; axes are grabbed, nooses are tied, someone’s on the roof at 4 AM. As it winds down with cascading synths twice removed from the angelic, echoing “I ain’t half the man I wanted to be” into the pearly gates, it’s frightening to imagine what that man would have been like. It’s Alex Cameron’s world, and we’re just living in it. Which would appear to be the problem.

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