Friday, January 12, 2007

Tonight, Tonight: Bloc Party "The Prayer"

The video for lead single, "The Prayer," from Weekend in the City is a psychedelic trip through the insecurities and pleasures of being young, free and out on the town...

Bloc Party "The Prayer"

dir. by Walter Stern

There's something immediately ominous about the pounding drums, monkish humming and hand-held cameras that open this video. The blood red hues and tired expressions on the faces of the band seem to imply some grand impending disaster as well. Kele Okereke sings with some hidden purpose, slowly yet pronounced. People are slowly entering the place to dance, but the boys on the couch seem bored and uninterested. They look at nothing in particular as they occasionally sit up or down in their seats, prefering to wait for excitement rather than actively doing anything to create it.

But of course they have already done something. If not instantly clear, we soon realize that these guys have taken more than just drinks this evening. They float in and out of actually being there, drifting into moments of subdued euphoria or blankness. The effect is similar to MDMA or Ecstasy, but the exact drug of choice is not really relevant. What is being represented is the twisted and often humorous view that one takes on whenever high on a substance.

Yet thankfully this isn't an infomercial on an ecstasy epidemic or why kids shouldn't do drugs. Not that it would be an unwarranted or even wrong message, but it would certainly negate the full power of both the song and the video. The guys here are essentially as "high" on the expectation of the night as they are on alcohol or drugs. Okereke prays that the lord might give him "dancing feet" and the power to "impress," as he awaits the onslaught of the night. When that rush finally does come, it's an overwhelming feeling of both happiness and loss, loneliness amidst a sea of beautiful people. And he never really dances.

But the momentary excitement of something larger, something bigger around the corner, is what gives the youthful bar scene such weight. The smile on the faces of the band as they peer around at the others is the smile of possibilities, the thought of leaving with whatever and whomever you want. Once again the song echoes this sentiment in it's fundamental question, "Is it so wrong to want more than is given to you?".

The subsequent dance floor sequence is a rather mesmerizing display of visual effects. Attempting to mimic the process of altered perspectives and slow brain-processing the director imposes blurry, stretched and burning holes on the viewpoints of the band. Thus women and men look coquettishly at Okereke but he has to literally look around his thoughts in order to see them. These playful exchanges are actually the emotional climax of the drug-experience for him as he gets no nearer to physical content than this.

The Bloc Party album is entitled Weekend in the City, and this song approximates the highlight of a few days off at the end of the week - the respite from five days of hard work culminating in a euphoric experience of freedom. Yet that bliss is not the actual achieving of the goal, as we see none of the characters speak a word to anyone new or get close to actually experiencing any human connection other than the aforementioned occasional glance. There's almost a sense of a letdown at the end, as if the video didn't make due on it's foreshadowed promise. But the song/video is called "the prayer" because it is essential about the anticipation; the longing that accompanies the moments before the drugs and the release in the experience of said drugs. It's a scary and ultimately thrilling feeling. Just one look can feel like a success, one moment of visual contact can momentarily erase a whole week of disappointments.

Perhaps it's a false sense of accomplishment, a false sense of empowerment. But the experience of hope, whether on drugs or not, is always a supremely moving thing. And Bloc Party's video is primarily about hope, about throwing it all against the wall just for a few moments of respite from thought, responsibility and aging - just to feel like a kid again. We shouldn't need these things to lift us up, but we can't deny that sometimes we do.

The final image is of burning. There are a lot of ways to live through your youth, and while you shouldn't ever put yourself in extreme danger for the sake of a cheap thrill, in such a brutally confining society one can hardly argue against living life on fire once in a while.

Bloc Party - The Prayer - EP - The Prayer (Phones Metal Jackin' Mix)


Colin said...

Beautifully-written piece, man.

Anonymous said...

So wrong dude...

Anonymous said...

The quality of the video is too poor to recognise what the artist wanted to express. Totally crap.

50pencemaddie said...

whether right or wrong i think what you wrote was good. i like hearing interpretation off videos from other people, mainly cos im so bad at it! but i largely agree that what you wrote makes sense, and thank you..

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie