For those only familiar with Cameron Avery as a touring bassist for Tame Impala or a former member of the psych-rock band Pond, the first impression after listening to his first solo outing might be that he is drifting away from that style to pursue his own. But Avery also toured with Alex Turner’s The Last Shadow Puppets in 2016, and that sound, as well as the band’s modern sensibility, is palpable on this album, except it’s infused with influences such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley; artists that Avery himself has cited as personal inspirations. The Australian singer-songwriter’s debut solo album is a portrait of a man trying to hold on to his romantic ideals and watching them crumble as love fades away.
Taking the listener by surprise, jazz influences reveal themselves on opener ‘A Time and Place’, an intimate acoustic guitar ballad. Double bass and brushed drum kit complement Avery’s honeyed baritone, as the lyrics form cloudy, ambiguous images of the past. He urges his lover to ignore what others are saying, reassuring her with the ultimate romantic remark that “love will get us by”. Avery warns us on the title, however, that these are “pipe dreams”, a term which, though may also be seen as a reference to his career in psychedelic bands, represents his awareness that this idealism is illusory and fruitless. This is reflected on the next track, ‘Do You Know Me By Heart?’, which sees the multi-instrumentalist keep and expand the previous style with luscious strings and bigger instrumentation; he keeps this kind of hope, expressed in the form of lyrical clichés, but remains helpless as the other person falls out of love.
As Avery becomes more self-reflective and critical of his idealizations, the sound is modernized. Lead single ‘Wasted On Fidelity’, the most musically ambitious track on the album, highlights the main conflict: living up to his romanticism or giving himself to “those entertaining mornings with what’s her face,” as he declares, with a voice uncannily resembling Alex Turner’s. Love is a joyfully fleeting thing on ‘Dance With Me’, a song which will undoubtedly bring to mind the late Leonard Cohen, with its sensuous rhythm and angelic female vocals in the background. At times his tone is more tongue-in-cheek, most notably on ‘Disposable’ – “I’m useful, but I’m disposable,” he sings – and it works for the better, giving his charming, sweet voice an interesting edge that most of the album lacks.
There are a couple of songs where this filter, this unblemished and utopian perspective, collapses; self-control, along with tenderness, is lost. Avery is unrecognizable as he lets himself go completely on the indie-dance/ garage rock ‘Watch Me Take It Away’, reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys at their most darkly psychedelic and energetic. Another surprising track is the 8-minute, darkly comic ‘Whoever Said Gambling’s For Suckers’, where he uses detailed spoken-word to tell a story in a Sun Kil Moon manner. It’s driven by a simple bass and drum rhythm, while the backing vocals are refreshingly wavering and dynamic. The album title may refer to the word “ripe” – complete, fully developed – but this track is proof that he’s at his most compelling when the song structures are fluid and inconstant.
The album interestingly closes with ‘C’est Toi’, a piano ballad that goes back to the beginning, to that first state of infatuation, the perfect ideal; as he falls in love, he recognizes that it is “total, tender, and tragic”. Of these qualities, tragicness is what endures after being exposed to the whole album, but perhaps the song also offers a kind of new hope regardless.
“I’ve drowned myself in the sure things,” Avery sings on ‘Wasted On Fidelity’, and despite the fact that he is almost certainly not referring to his music, he does play it a bit too safe. Fortunately, though, there are promising signs of personality.