Published Aug 19, 2016On his succinct, eight-song debut release as a solo artist, Jumping the Shark, Alex Cameron embodies a number of curious, downtrodden characters. The title refers to an attempt by a long-running work (a television show, for example) to remain fresh, usually fuelled by desperation or panic.
Over the half-hour runtime, Cameron pieces together the narratives of various losers whose lives seem to revolve around failure: a talk show host that "used to be the number one entertainer," and who longs to "get his show back"; a fellow who's unemployed and "living with (his) folks now, but (he) can still get around" and find his happy ending; and someone starting a new life on the internet. It all paints an honest, reflective portrait of grief and longing for better times, of people pining for the past or relief from their current troubling states.
Cameron's vocals, stark yet sultry, evoke Nick Cave's baritone croon. The instrumentation is nearly limited solely to synths, with the exception of some guitar that's muddled on "Mongrel" (which has a very Queen's "I Want To Break Free" feel to it), and fuzzed out to oblivion on "Real Bad Lookin'." The synths don't stray far from simplistic, almost goofy-sounding runs, and on occasion border on feeling like someone's personal project on GarageBand or the like (think Father John Misty's "True Affection" — that kind of inorganic, uncomplicated delivery).
The ominous "Gone South" lacks a chorus, but could easily be paired with some David Lynch visuals, and has some of the record's oddest lyrics: "I met, by chance, a great tour man, he said he had a room full of orphans / He had them working 'round the clock, preserving energy, he spoke about the key to survival." The hilarious and blunt "Real Bad Lookin'" opens with "I am the drunkest, ugliest girl at the bar," and runs along backed by a bouncy, almost carnivalesque synth melody, and later has Cameron repeatedly chime in with, "Well, who the hell are you to tell me that I can't leave my kid in the car?" It may be the most cringe-worthy stories that Jumping the Shark has to offer, and that's saying a lot considering the other tales this record tells.
"She's Mine" is a standout track, harbouring an '80s feel and a fantastic vocal hook ("It's just water, taste it, I promise"), with the simple but striking music video featuring Cameron having a solo dance, and certainly sporting a bit of a young Bowie look. His website is worth a visit, too, paying homage to the early Angelfire and Geocities days of yore. Hilarious.
At times, the simplicity of the melodies (the synths at times sound like readymade ones you'd find on a Yamaha keyboard) and decidedly uncomplicated drum machine beats may leave the listener wanting more, but they play into the notion of these characters being pathetic, exhausted and disappointed so well that there really isn't a need for much more. Jumping The Shark celebrates failure and disillusionment, strips '80s synth sensibilities to their most basic elements, and pairs them with stories befitting therapy sessions; it's a listening experience that entertains but also makes you wince and wonder if happier days will ever come. (Secretly Canadian)