It’s not often when reviewing an album that you’re presented with a statement from the artist themselves. “Dear member of the media,” writes Alex Cameron, “Before you listen to the record you should know some things about me. Important things. Things I never told anyone else.” Intriguing.
Then again, such behaviour shouldn’t come as much of a surprise from the brains behind one of 2016’s most curiously enjoyable releases, Jumping the Shark. On it, the man who early in his solo career would apply latex scars and wrinkles to his face before every performance to really get into character, took listeners on a journey that fully immersed them in a world of his own making. With Forced Witness, he’s morphed into character – or characters – again, but the world this time around is a much murkier one.
Cameron is not alone; his “business partner” Roy Molloy is with him every step of the way, jazzing up proceedings with his slick sax work. But that’s not the only partnership the enigmatic Aussie forms, as he joins forces with none other than Angel Olsen for arguable standout moment ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, a duet that distils the pain of love lost and the internal toing-and-froing that follows.
Such bleak themes are common throughout. Opener ‘Candy May’ – featuring Olsen on backing vocals – sets a sombre tone for what’s to come as Cameron laments an impossible relationship, while ‘True Lies’ delves into online seediness. Where Jumping the Shark quite often bordered on the amusing, Forced Witness sticks closer to the rawness – but that’s not to say it’s any less entertaining for it. Molloy’s free-flowing groove touches ‘Country Figs’ and ‘Runnin’ Outta Luck’ – one of two tracks featuring Killers frontman Brandon Flowers – with glimmers of positivity, while Cameron’s expertly peppered wit shines through in the lyrics numerous occasions, notably during that Olsen duet when being “shat on by an eagle” brings with it the expected helping of good luck, and while wishing for “a face with a Beckham-like quality” on Marlon Brando.
Back to Cameron’s letter, though, and it does take several reads to fully catch his drift (in short, he’s cast himself as a former private investigator who’s continuing on a one-man mission to keep “cataloguing the evidence” of all manner of unsavouriness). In any case, Forced Witness makes for pretty darn depressing listening when you get right to the core of it.
But ultimately, the stuff Cameron or his characters address makes all too much sense whether you’ve read the prologue or not. After all, are we not all living in the same fucked up world to one extent or another?
Live: Scala, 5th December