Somewhere in the delicacy of Sonny Elliot’s track ‘Broken Glasses’, a moment occurs when the usual skepticism reserved for this kind of sensitive ballad comes to an end. The direct address of ‘heartache and sadness’ would usually have us staring at our shoes and checking the exit; uncomfortable that the overfamiliar tropes of pop were being trolleyed out again. But wait. Sonny Elliot avoid the pitfalls of “I want something-I can’t have something-I’m sad” songwriting. The duo of brothers Chris and Joe Peden have produced a mature sweep of emotions. They balance out sensitivity with a scale that becomes totemic, universal, and better than good.
Banks of strings, a spaced out tempo, and a whisper-sung vocal track project a kind of simplicity that’s enjoyed by radio stations. This stuff is instantly listenable, and it should feature heavily in college radio rotation, but it is not without challenge. Smooth, cinematic strains are like a balm. There’s no urgency to grab the ear of the listener. Something hypnotic unfolds in the chord progression. But lyrics toy with the usual expectations.
Fractured lenses, a distorted view, and the physical abuse of a friend are the elements that establish theme. It’s hard to see things as they truly are when we’re the victims of abuse. The subject of domestic violence carries the name of her abuser in a tattooed love heart. It’s complicated. The narrative is perhaps too familiar, and yet it’s rarely handled in pop culture as successfully as Sonny Elliot manage here. There’s no judgement on the causes, or the perpetrators of aggression. Instead the default position of compassion is adopted.
Yes, there are moments where sentimentality is the main force of propulsion. However, it’s the intuitive reaction of compassion that distinguishes Sonny Elliot. There’s a shrewdness in looking at the long game, and a more confident solution to the tricky subject when addressing the bruising nature of things. This track is not a simple knee-jerking manipulator of emotions.
Songcraft here concentrates on the origins of pain, and seeks out solutions within community. We’re all capable of hurt, and of hurting. We’re all as vulnerable to pain, and inflicting pain. This is not a typical, sensitive ballad. It does not patronize, it does not talk down – it is emotionally charged, but avoids manipulation. Sonny Elliot have produced a metamodern love song, and it’s as rewarding as it is surprising.
‘Broken Glasses’ is lifted from Sonny Elliot’s upcoming sophomore EP, which will be released in October.