Going by his Twitter feed Alex Cameron’s a poorly paid electronic musician and singer from Australia whose car is impounded in the US.
I’ve since found out his car isn’t impounded in the US, but his tweet that it was is amusing, and clearly those who’d listened to “Jumping The Shark” and know of him and the album’s intent would’ve gotten the joke.
What’s not so funny is that this album came out two years ago and until recently I had no idea it had. Thankfully I was listening to Charlie Bones’ NTS radio show on the day he just happened to have Cameron on as a guest, otherwise I’d probably still have no clue that he or “Jumping The Shark” existed.
However, my ignorance is somewhat logical, and it ties in with one of Jumping The Shark’s propositions – Cameron’s semi-fictitious positing as a struggling musician. With so many media platforms our means of consuming music has altered. Even if we, and yes, that includes me writing this column, weren’t all too busy fighting for various forms and levels of gratification on our media platform of choice, we’d still struggle to consume what we want how we want truly efficiently. An abundance of choice, married with the limitations of time, encourages us to choose from a smaller pool of it, and as a result the ocean of obscurity grows.
That’s why Cameron’s self-deprecatory insouciance in his relative anonymity is appealing, as was his releasing the album on the internet for free and making low budget videos featuring terrible dancing on an appropriately crappy car to accompany one of the album’s songs. All of them contradict the aspirational standard of the industry and wider culture.
But what about the album title “Jumping The Shark”? You’ll notice the present tense. I suspect it’s wholly ironic and autobiographic. Cameron is going one step further than just conflating fictional and (possibly) autobiographical perspectives and experiences into the vague characterisations found in his songs, he’s using the same disingenuous construct and barrier social media affords many of us as part of the creative process.
Sure, he’s taking the piss out of everyone, including himself, but Cameron gives a shit about what he’s doing. His brand of humour is dark and unrelenting in its proclivity for pound shop existentialism, when allied with the popularity of salubriously spacious electro-pop inflections and drum machine sequences it gives his material a better chance of trespassing on our meagre digital footprints.
Most of the sparse melodies that underpin all the album’s eight songs are a fittingly glib aesthetic for Cameron’s subject matter and online persona, and at times intentionally borrow from Mambo Kurt’s sarcastic amateurism. Sans Cameron’s dry croonery these arrangements wouldn’t appear out of place on the ignored Soundcloud or Bandcamp pages of bedroom producers in some guise, or forming part of a generic batch of templates that Rhianna, Madonna and Beyonce pay producers tens of thousands to come up with, freeing them up to promote the album, or, more likely, their brands.
Laugh all you like, and you will, but materialistic ennui and unfulfilled self-entitlement do encourage folk to start a new life on ‘The Internet’ to compensate. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing this process that it takes the form of a song, delivered from an introspective perspective, to remind us just how ridiculous the justifications for it often are. On ‘Mongrel’ a less austere sounding veneer belies its thematic purpose – comparing the startling chasms between the perception and reality of a relationship woven around opiate drug use through pre and post addiction experiences. Then there’s ‘Real Bad Looking’ where two loser stock characters, a drunken, trashy, ugly single mother and a flash douchebag, seek and ultimately fail to transcend their insecurities, character flaws and slovenly phenotypes.
But ‘The Comeback’ is the album’s gem. A line from it gives it its title and also inspires the album cover, which shows Cameron sporting a hearing aid with prosthetic skin over the cheeks distressed by years of stress and hard living. Cameron assumes the plight of a washed up TV show host who’s fighting back to keep what he’s earned and the loyalty he believes he’s due from the culture. Another over-used cliché, the five stages of Kübler-Ross, though not in chronological order, narrates his demise and helps build the suspense. He rants that digital media culture has rendered old-fashioned entertainment platforms and traditions obsolete ‘they don’t wanna see an old dog sing and dance/they’re done with television, and it aint getting a second chance’. His voice growls with anger as he derides a talentless James Corden like replacement ‘some fat-fuck crying with a song about diabetes’ and threatens to set Ahmed the ‘paralegal nightmare’ on them to resolve the matter. With the introduction of heavily modulated guitar chords and a doubling of the synth sequence in the studio version, and a sax accompaniment on the live version (both are excellent), the additional verbosity threatens a crescendo that never arrives. Anger and resentment, fragmented by bouts of bargaining, make you anticipate the final purge – a visceral act of some kind – only for it to dissipate cravenly, which appropriately mirrors the docility created by Carbon Monoxide poisoning, with a solemn soliloquy of suicidal despondency. He accepts his failure, but, resolute to the end, at least he ‘didn’t have to Jump The Shark to get my show back’.
You suspect that Cameron’s career (to date) on the fringes of popularity come in handy and help him wield empathy with the unempathetic. Despite this album being brilliant he’s playing to crowds of several hundred to a couple of thousand not tens of thousands. Aware of this, and after listening to “Jumping The Shark”, you’re placed vis-à-vis with the reality that life in the music industry, when spliced with modern technology and taste, isn’t fair. Just like all the characters in his songs you suspect Cameron’s reached acceptance, and he can cope because, unlike so many of us, at least he’s doing what wants, his way. Just as the failed stockbroker (surely based on Nick Leeson) from the song ‘Happy Ending’, who’s lost everything due to being seduced with procuring everything unfettered capitalism had promised him ‘by trading against the pound’, can see that his failure, in relative terms, isn’t really failure at all.
Maybe the album being reissued will have a validatory and corrective effect; Alex Cameron will get his car back, in the metaphorical sense, and this album will, at some point in the future, jump the shark and give us all a happy ending, because it’ll mean songmanship like this will have become the norm not the exception. Me? I probably haven’t helped the cause using this medium like this, but at least I bloody tried, man.