ALEX CAMERON Forced Witness gets 6.5/10

Alex Cameron
Forced Witness
Secretly Canadian/Inertia

6.5/10

Alex Cameron is part of a new breed of Australian crooners, a breed that are socially hyper-aware and ironically uncool (but actually cool as hell). Also known as Seekae’s frontman, his second solo album Forced Witness follows 2013’s self-produced Jumping The Shark and comes on the back of co-writing half of The Killers’ latest album and a killer spot alongside Jimmy Barnes on Kirin J Callinan’s Big Enough. He’s pretty hot right now.

Forced Witness has come a long way in terms of accessibility. It is an upbeat, Aussie rock throwback that is steeped in 80s musical influences, all with a lyrically modern edge. Complete with horn, trumpet, synth, harmonies, global influences and duets, it’s a fun album, though at times could perhaps musically prove a little too derivative for some.

Behind the synth and cheesy melodic lines, which at times are impossible to get out of our head, are journeys into dark and sinister characters, happenings and scenes all that lurk deep in our society. They are imagined personalities by Cameron undesirable characters that make up the whole highly-conceptual album.

Cameron has described these personalities as becoming real parts of himself and that he likes the blurring of lines between imagined characters and his reality. He writes and assumes these positions as an observer, done in such a way that his musings are satirical. Though Cameron himself denies these portrayals are meant to be ironic, the white bonds singlets (awfully referred to as ‘wife beaters’), the speed dealer sunnies, the spidery dance moves, the ill-fitting 80s jackets, the wet, slicked back hair, and the self-defacing social media posts and interviews, beg to differ.

Forced Witness is a pop album, with sprinkles of Springsteen-esque balladry and hooks. The stronger songs, like Runnin’ Outta Luck and Stranger’s Kiss (a duet with Angel Olsen) are catchy as hell; they seem to roll out with such ease and purity that you can’t help but be enthralled by them. This seamlessness is a credit to Cameron’s ability to re-imagine the nostalgic 80’s pub rock era with a fresh and inventive approach, as well as obviously, his sheer ability to write interesting songs you just want to sing along to. In these songs, Cameron is more invested in the characters or their stories, whereas in some of the other tracks on the album, they just feel too impersonal.

Forced Witness is not for the fainted hearted. On Marlon Brando Cameron repeatedly uses the word faggot, throughout the album he loves to talk about jews, bitches and pussy and he thinks taking care of your body is fucking ridiculous. On Little Lies Cameron is a lonely man with a porn addiction: “I live with a deep regret/of what I do on the internet.” And on Studdmuffin96 he even roaches relationships with “barely 17 year olds”.  On Stranger’s Kiss he tells the audience “me and Roy and the Down Syndrome Jew from the real estate crew” are his “pretty mean posse”.

Obviously, these are not things Cameron says or does, but that his characters say and do.  But that might mean little to some people. All in all, the album is a piece of social commentary done in his own unique way, and chances are you’ll either find his take funny and refreshing, or insulting.

Whichever side you fall it must be noted that Cameron does a good job of dealing with some pretty explicit and shocking content against an upbeat and grandiose backdrop of insatiable music. The juxtaposition is clever, it’s almost so clever in fact that you forget what Cameron is actually saying.

There has been some alternative narrative around Cameron and some of his counterparts, particularly on the likes of Australian publication Junkee. It argues that Cameron and co assume particular roles in society and/or comment on them, but they – as white, educated, supported, middle class men – are in the highest ratings of privilege and have likely never been directly affected by such people, and that therefore their ironic take-offs of such perpetrators is in fact insulting and subservient.

This is problematic, as Cameron creates art, and in doing so, Cameron is pretty much allowed to sing, talk about and assume whomever he pleases.

In some ways, Cameron’s outlandish personality, controversial characters, celebrity relationships and social media presence have become bigger than his music. But does the music stack up? Forced Witness does – just. This is mainly thanks to Runnin’ Outta Luck, Stranger’s Kiss, Candy May and The Hacienda, as well as their accompanying film clips. Through them we are assured that Cameron has the artistic brilliance to back the controversy.

Besides, it’s a bigger issue than Cameron, and a constant cause for discussion in the arts industry, at what point does the creative license cease to permit unethical discourse? Does Cameron’s artistic license overthrow the fact that he repeatedly uses the word faggot – as someone who is not gay and has therefore probably never been marginalised and had that very word used against him to do the marginalising? And that he assumes the position of toxic masculinity despite not being as directly affected by it as other minorities?

It’s hard to imagine Cameron ever being sexually harassed by bulky, bully men at a bar, or that his music has been undermined by his gender. It’s easy for Cameron to assume these positions, as an observer and not a victim. Perhaps for some people Cameron’s ironic take on it all demeans the work they do, as people who have been affected by these things, and who do fight out against it.

Whilst the album has some undeniably brilliant songs, and shows glimpses of Cameron’s brilliance, it also has its fair share of fillers. There are too many songs that just lack the heart or ingenuity, that are so 80s it becomes a little sickly at times.

The characters and masks Cameron puts on for Forced Witness, ultimately end up being a barrier. The album just lacks a little sincerity and soul. Perhaps not until Cameron gives a little more of himself, and his own experiences, will the music be as affecting as it needs to be to stand in the ‘great’ bracket.

LARA FOX

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