On Forced Witness Aussie anecdotalist Alex Cameron re-enters his failed lounge lizard persona to its fullest extent, spinning yarns about hope and failure in the seediest reaches of humanity with the utmost conviction. The artificial wrinkles and pock-marks of Jumping the Shark may be a thing of the past, but Cameron’s protagonists are more deplorable, depraved, and fascinating than ever, their half-hearted defense of smarmy actions and come-ons pouring smoothly over fantastic pop hooks, sax solos and choruses.
In fact, much of the beauty of Forced Witness lies in how effortlessly the plush melodies and earnest delivery succeed in wedging into the mind some of the crassest lyrics ever to be put to music. There are few imaginable contexts in which a line like “It feels like I could just peel the gym pants off a single mother” could be crooned over an emotive late 80s electric piano ballad and still pass as a worthy creative venture but somehow Cameron pulls it off. Between doomed encounters with a stripper in a car, being catfished by a Nigerian email fisher and chasing “the hottest barely legal-aged teens” online, the characters reek of tragic failure and a strange, desperate aspiration to a macho ideal of masculinity. Their words shouldn’t be poignant or catchy, but nevertheless it’s pretty difficult to remove from the mind Studmuffin96’s clammy-handed ode to his underage lover on the eponymous track. The album is relentlessly catchy, causing a moral dilemma for the listener – does the quality of a tune justify the pervy content, and even if it does, can you really groove in comfort to it?
Cameron definitely relishes this irresistibility of his PC-shunning personas, pushing the conflict to its limit by turning the album into a grand, widescreen affair of the proportions of Springsteen or Bryan Adams if they dabbled in synth-pop. He puts his voice to full use here, his impassioned baritone croaking and soaring at the appropriate points as he weaves clichéd lines about “waitin’ for you” and “beautiful eyes”, before rhyming them with “Nigerian guy” on the choir-assissted final chorus of ‘True Lies’. If the chorus of ‘Runnin’ Outta Luck’ sounds like a Killers’ song blown out of all proportion, that’s because Brandon Flowers lends a hand on backing vocals and production in exchange for Cameron’s help on new album Wonderful Wonderful – an unlikely pairing, but a brilliant one. Even better is the ‘duet with’ Angel Olsen on ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, a song as beautifully melodramatic as its description, with video directed by and co-starring Girls’ Jemima Kirke.
Forced Witness is an album that needs and deserves more than one listen – it’s bold, dirty and intimate, a bizarrely humorous character-study with a contagious sound.
IMAGE: Drew de F Fawkes, Flickr