Alan Bonner’s latest music video has landed and stopped us right in our tracks. How Did It Come To This? is a ballad to play on your heartstrings, but not like the ones you’ve heard before.
It begins with unadorned piano and Bonner’s unnerving gaze, who doesn’t let go. He hits each note with assurance but his voice quakes with emotion, recalling the delivery of Anthony & the Johnsons that so impressed Lou Reed in the early noughties. It’s fashionable to malign that era now; Bonner isn’t so picky about his influences. Hear for yourself:
It’s not Bonner’s own story that he tells in this ballad, but that of an unknown woman standing in a boat, gun in hand. He doesn’t wail for her: he just tells of the tragic reality of a handful of moments without the whole arc before. That’s why we ask, ‘how did it come to this?’
‘Feeling the kick inside
All the secrets she had carried
Carried for a season
Now there is no reason’
He tells us in the second verse: an unwanted wedding in repressed Bible Belt America, to a man she can never love. This is even more poignant if you interpret it with an LGBT+ lens, considering Bonner’s own history as an outspoken LGBT+ artist (much like Anthony & the Johnsons, in fact). It’s good to hear music with a progressive message.
Born for the ballad
Progressive, but not optimistic: even at his most urgent, in the stirring bridge section singing ‘don’t let it come to this’, Bonner doesn’t give us much hope. Like the bars he’s tied to in the first half, like the clammy cellar in the second, these situations are so often out of our control, and he knows it. It’s remarkable how Lisa Loriene’s videography tells a very different story but captures the same tone.
That’s the most winning thing about Bonner’s songwriting – how he captures those precise sentiments. Not just ‘sadness’, which can come off as whiny, or lazy cynicism: rather, the point of misery beyond explaining and beyond complaining, the apathy stage.
The maturity of this musician won’t surprise anyone who’s heard him before. That might include you if you’ve ever followed Time Out, Grazia, Gay Times or BBC 6Music.
But whether or not you’ve heard him before you’re bound to want to hear him again. Alan Bonner will play at Lagari on the 25th May with the Troubadour Collective (indieBerlin recommended!).
(Artist’s acknowledgement to director Lisa Loriene and actors Glenn Krogel and George Begbie)