Alex Cameron - Forced Witness

by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:3 Release Date:2017-09-01

Forced Witness. As far as I'm concerned, a very precise title, signaling that something is very wrong here! There are two distinct possibilities - either I’m completely clueless by seeing this album as utter crap, or the second Alex Cameron album is an absolute masterpiece with its tongue so deeply in cheek that I missed the joke. I thought (and listened) again, and it's just not right.

Looking at all the facts before taking a single listen, it appeared really promising. Cameron’s first album, Jumping The Shark, got superlative reviews. Forced Witness is being released by Secret Canadian, a label quite dear to my heart since I don’t remember hearing a dud release from this label. Cameron has toured with some really hip names like Mac DeMarco, Kevin Morby and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The album is produced by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, a man who, besides his great band is also known to have had a hand in the production of some great albums recently, like the recent Lemon Twigs one. To top it off, there’s even a duet here with highly regarded singer/songwriter Angel Olsen (“Secret Miss”).

The way Cameron describes the lyrics to some songs here, like the one to “Marlon Brando,” give off an impression of an intelligent guy who describes the song as, "a study of a man in the hopeless pursuit of a woman. He is a familiar character in the world, a self-assured jock, a dullard, a low-grade human who uses a specific kind of language when he finds a situation outside of his control. The song's lyrics present a damning indictment of homophobia and misogyny and their genesis in toxic masculinity." And yet, I still don’t get it, even though I’m not somebody with subpar intelligence.

I was barely able to sit through Forced Witness the first time around. To make sure I wasn't wrong, I barely managed one more round. Still the same. I suppose the music was supposed to be a pastiche of some middle of the road cross between Bruce Springsteen, Frankie Miller and Bob Seger. The problem is that it sounded so middling, that even Middle of The Road’s “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” sounds more bearable. In all of that, there was no chance to discern any meaningful messages in the lyrics that Cameron talks about. Maybe they’re there, I just didn’t get them.

Making an album as a cheeky homage to a genre requires that one still has to come up with all the recognisable characteristics in order to be a successful caricature. In comparison to, for example, recent Phoenix Italo-disco pastiche “Ti Amo,” I don’t see much of that on Forced Witness. I certainly might have missed the point and everything in between, but I don’t think I’ll be looking to hear this album again.

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