Alex Cameron - Forced Witness LP

(Secretly Canadian, 2017)

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"Alex Cameron is a sleazeball. Or rather, “Alex Cameron” is a sleazeball. On his 2016 debut, Jumping the Shark, the Australian raconteur presented himself as a lounge-lizard lecher best described by a line from the song “Real Bad Lookin’”: “I am the dumbest richest guy at the bar.” He was a Neil Hamburger who delivered skeezy synth-pop come-ons, instead of bad one-liners, a one-man Suicide playing for the passed-out drunks under the flickering neon beer-logo signage at Trader Vic’s. The fake wrinkles Cameron applied to his face to get into character effectively put the air quotes around the enterprise.

But on his second album, Forced Witness, Cameron has cleaned up his act—aesthetically, at least. He’s no longer reaching for the makeup kit or hiding behind a masquerade. With the help of his sax-wielding accomplice Roy Molloy, producer Jonathan Rado, and a collaboration with Brandon Flowers, he’s upgraded his sound from chintzy pawn-shop synth presets to a luxurious, widescreen presentation that channels the plushest ’80s pop. And we’re not talking eternally fashionable influences like New Order and Depeche Mode, but the sort of slick MOR schlock you might hear between John Waite’s “Missing You” and John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” on a dentist’s office playlist.

He’s also raising his voice beyond above the first album’s disaffected, dead-cool murmur, investing it with chest-pumping passion, and projecting it to the cheap seats. Where Cameron once played a ham, now he’s practically Meat Loaf—and in its most resplendent, sax-smoothed moments, Forced Witness comes on like Destroyer’s Kaputt if its guiding light was Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell instead of Roxy Music’s Avalon. But all that surface radiance ultimately serves to shine a harsh, unforgiving light on the ugliest of creatures: the modern, macho alpha male—and, by extension, the desperate, delusional dudes who aspire to that ideal." - Stuart Berman for Pitchfork