Alex Cameron approaches sleaziness in Forced Witness

Photo courtesy of Secretly Canadian

To be perfectly frank, I was very prepared to be completely snarky about indie singer-songwriter Alex Cameron’s album Forced Witness. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Australian Cameron’s first record — namely, the songs “Real Bad Lookin’” and “Take Care of Business” — I was prepared for this record to be an ostentatious, over-the-top concept project that was more style and caricature than substance.

To offer some background, Cameron adopts a satirical persona in his music — that of a sleazy, washed-up musician. This is evident in the cover art of both Forced Witness and his 2016 album Jumping the Shark. On Jumping the Shark, he sports a long, greased-back hairdo with large black aviators and absurdly pronounced acne scars. However, the Forced Witness artwork suggests an evolution, as Cameron is dressed in a similar fashion (a leather jacket with a turtleneck and sunglasses) but his environment has changed. Now, Cameron stands with his back to a window where adoring fans shove their hands through the shades to snap a picture with their phones. This reflects the progression of his work as a whole, as in his first album the character he plays is more insecure and despondent.  In one of his first singles from Jumping the Shark, he sings, “I used to be the number one entertainer, now I’m bumpkin with a knife / I’ll never get my show back.” However, he has turned a leaf and is displaying his confident, even more unsavory side in his new release.

His persona is perfectly manageable in small doses, but in a full-length album it becomes tired and obnoxious after a few tracks. Admittedly, he avoids being totally corny while maintaining some of the acerbic humor of this character at times and in certain instances, the wit of his role is his record’s saving grace. But many of the tracks are imperfect and Cameron’s humor can’t really save the excessive piggishness of it all. Indeed, this project is flawed, as at times the lyrics go too far in being smarmy.

Take “Studmuffin96” for instance. The first verse goes, “But I keep my money in the bank / p-ssy in the bed / liquor out of reach.” And in the chorus he sings, “I’m waiting for my lover / She’s almost 17 / Surrounded by the vision / Of a thousand fantasies.” I understand that this is all essentially parodying the gnarly way in which most classic rock music sexualizes young girls and groupie culture. But in attempting to subvert these problems and stereotypes, Cameron is just reinforcing them. Not to be a wet blanket, but it is often difficult to find humor in satire that is so close to home that it might as well not be satire at all. A white guy objectifying women in order to make fun of other white guys objectifying women isn’t subversive, and it’s still gross, no matter the greater satirical intention.

The bright spots of the record include “Runnin’ Outta Luck” which pays homage to upbeat power ballads of the ’80s, but is infused with a singer-songwriter sensibility and features a ripping sax solo at the end. The synth paired with the four-on-the-floor bass beats make it irresistibly danceable, and its repetitive chorus makes it annoyingly catchy as well. The lyrics in this track are not as vomit-inducing as some of the more greasy, almost malicious songs. This track embodies what the vision of the album as a whole seems to be: Poking fun at the ridiculous faux masculinity of a failing rock has-been. This chorus expresses this well: “I’m a man on a mission, you’re a stripper out of luck / And we’re good in the backseat but we’re better upfront / And there’s blood on my knuckles ’cause there’s money in the trunk.” It’s silly and formulaic and cinematic in a wonderfully fun way at no one’s expense. The music video, too, is hilariously awkward, as we watch a lanky, wife beater-clad Cameron shimmy and vogue on the beach and on the sidewalk.

All in all, while there are certainly some gems on this record, Cameron would do well to focus less on making a comment on the absurdity of masculinity in pop culture, as it can overshadow the legitimate quality of his sound.

Virginia Bullington is a sophomore majoring in American studies and narrative studies. She is also the rock music director of KXSC Radio. The rotating guest column, “KXSC Radio,” runs Thursdays.