Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Alex Cameron is really in on his own jokes. I’ve yet to see an interview or clip of the man breaking character and the persona is so well maintained that it calls into question whether his album Forced Witness is the genuine contribution of a delirious musician or whether Cameron is just a master of third person songwriting. Personally I like to think it’s a bit of both: if it wasn’t an act then some of the lines would be genuinely concerning, but on the flip side their bizarre strangeness and crudeness makes it hard to believe that they’re just a product of pure imagination.
Cameron’s humour across both his two records (Jumping the Shark and Forced Witness) is best described as absurdity. Set to the backdrop of 80’s electro pop cheese, the wife beater wearing protagonist makes some extreme, hilarious and worrying confessions across the albums. Frankly a lot of them are just plain silly, but it’s the perfect match of dated synth pop accompaniment with these ridiculous lyrics that makes it impossible for me to listen through the album without cracking a smile every now and then.
So what sort picture does the album paint of our protagonist Alex? There’s a lot to say. Firstly, the man is dead weird. It’s worth watching the ‘Runnin’ Outta Luck’ video to really get a good idea of this element. Skimpy vests, greasy locks and cowboy jeans take centre stage in the music video, with overgrown armpit hair adding that extra bit of panache. Completed with moves that don’t even deserve the label of ‘dad dancing’, more like a weird uncle, his mad hip sways and arm pumps make a hypnotic yet creepy combo — the kind that makes you want to look round and check no one is watching you watching him. It’s worth bearing in mind that whilst completely serious in appearance, Alex and accompanying Saxophonist Roy Malone are in reality filming all this on some dreary beach in the UK, adding to the absurdity of the lyrics:
“I’m a man on a mission, you’re a stripper out of luck,
And we’re good in the back seat, but we’re better up front,
And there’s blood on my knuckles ’cause there’s money in the trunk,
Keep running out of luck, keep running out of luck”
All this gets at the root of his humour- the whole act is melodramatic but believable. The persona thing has to be a joke but it’s just impossible to ever catch any recognition of this from the man behind the mic. Online, in live performances, and in interviews, Cameron keeps all of it up, being intensely serious and overly open; as a listener I just don’t know how to take it.
The second major element of Alex’s ego would be the maverick/stallion/womaniser persona. First track ‘Candy May’, about Alex being trapped in an abusive relationship, shows this in little tipples such as the cracking first verse:
“But Candy May, she knows me better, yes, she knows my ways,
She has seen me naked, she knows I’m packing heat,
She has a way of saying “Baby, come to me complete”
Examples like this are numerous. For example, the get-up-and-go ‘Country Figs’ line:
“But a man like me can’t see you,
Can’t hold you for the night,
’Cause I haven’t been keeping my body tight”
is another bit of poetry that isn’t done justice in print. For what comes across as a piss take, Forced Witness is full of undeniably catchy melodies. It’s this catchiness that makes crude and stupid lines hilarious. Again, Cameron’s apparent seriousness is just brilliant to hear and adds to the overall image of the album.
On a weirder note it’s probably time to cover the third element of Alex Cameron. A fair amount of the album is dedicated to online relationships/affairs and forbidden love. ‘True Lies’ sees Cameron admitting that even if his online affair is actually just a Nigerian scammer, his appreciation for the poetry and pictures sent has made their relationship meaningful and real enough to him. Alex also turns the cliche of waiting for love on its head in ‘Studmuffin69’. Presumably a reference to some sort of chatroom nickname, it tells how Alex isn’t waiting for marriage or a reunion but actually just for his lover to turn 17 — the legal age of consent in Sidney. Charming. Other topics also verge dangerously on the crude. The line:
“The worst part about being homeless,
Is waking up from a dirty wet dream,
With a lap full of cum and a head full of steam”
in track ‘Country Figs’ is one that’s hard to decide whether it’s funny or disgusting. Even in what’s possibly the most heartfelt track of Forced Witness, the incredible ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, a touching duet with Angel Olsen, this line is blurred. Whilst some lyrics on the song are undeniably genius, comparing his post-breakup empowerment to the ability to ‘peel the gym pants of a single mother’ and referring to one of his bandmates as a ‘down syndrome Jew’ could rub some up the wrong way.
The 7th track ‘The Chihuahua’ is a nice example of a few of these elements tied together. The song sees Cameron end a relationship because
“The pussy leaves town,
When the boss ain’t around for feeding”
Rather than feeling sad however, he simply turns to
“Chasing pussy online,
’Cause the dog’s feeling fine and he needs it”
It’s pure seedy filth and not the sort of thing you’d want your mate to tell you, let alone hear on a record. If you’re not offended or just put off then the content, combined with the outdated image, is one that’s hard to take seriously. Here’s where the man meets the myth though: if you have time to sit through a bizarre yet hilarious hour long interview about his sex life you’ll find out that a fair amount of the album is based in reality. The real Alex Cameron appears just as frank and open as his onstage persona. Yet despite all this, the man is somewhat of an enigma and the lyrical content raises just as many questions as it does eyebrows. Is it an act? Is it based in reality? Or is it just Cameron being himself? Either way it’s a fascinating and hilarious listen, as well as a set of 10 superbly catchy 80’s synth pop tunes. Give it a listen.
By David Evans
Catch Alex Cameron on tour: https://www.seetickets.com/tour/alex-cameron
Listen to Forced Witness here: https://alexcameron.lnk.to/forcedwitness
Photograph: Chris Rhodes