Prometheus is a name synonymous with courage, creativity and intellect. In Greek mythology he was a Titan who stole the fire of the gods and secretly delivered it to humanity wrapped in the stalk of a fennel plant.
In 19th century Switzerland, the seeds of fennel plants were also used in the original preparation of Absinthe, a now largely illegal alcoholic drink said to have psychedelic effects on the mind and body. Kevin Barnes' brilliant song and directors Mike and Mark Chapman’s video are very much about the double-edged sword of creative discovery, and specifically, as it relates to artistic drug use.
Since Barnes himself has personally experienced a "chemical" addiction (and the band's music is fairly "trippy" itself), the video is far from a romanticized anti-drug infomercial. Instead it's a symphonic mess of comets, costumes and lots of bright colors meant to approximate the experience of the singer’s internal crisis. But it is a mess. Perhaps intentionally so. Barnes sings of his "inner cosmology too dense to navigate," and it would seem the directors have tried to recreate that confusion in this chaotic play.
The silly set-ups, over the top stage performances and muggy quality of the shots can't really compete with the polished exterior of the recent, somewhat similar Shins video. But, anyone whose seen Of Montreal live can attest to the hyper-surrealism of their stage show, and some of these props seem to come directly from the groups touring closet. Thus, much of the wacky aesthetic of the video seems right at home with that of the band.
While Barnes skips through this fantasyland, there are unavoidable moments of danger that interrupt the flow of his potentially pleasant experience. From an assassin in the crowd to a crab-like claw that spurts out of his own hand, no feeling of happiness lasts more than a fleeting moment. But it is through this continuous feeling of highs and lows that the leotard-wearing hero finds the impetus to carry on.
During the climactic finish, the band members — all dressed in stuffy business attire —surround the ornately decorated Barnes to senselessly perform mundane and redundant functions, such as perpetually sipping lattes or dropping pens. With this stark contrast the directors emphasize one of the essential appeals of drug use: While Barnes acknowledges that chemicals will always "hurt me when I’m feeling good," it also seems certain that one must do whatever it takes to avoid becoming a suit. Ironically, drug use is somewhat mechanical and habitual itself.
As the cast takes its final bow, Barnes smiles widely while still brandishing his clawed hand. There seems to be some pride in his carrying that scar, as if the "thorny path" has at last led him through a patch of fennel to some meaning. It isn't just the potential creative outburst that draws one into “chemicals”, but the rejection of living an ordinary life as well. During that same final bow a burning star flies momentarily past in the background – an image of Icarus, as much as Prometheus