A despondent black-and-white video from New York’s kings of hip is both unexpected and disappointing. The abrasive, stuttering, constantly moving camera-work for “Heart in a Cage,” the second single from the band’s third album, “First Impressions of Earth,” places the band in the midst of a cold New York winter. Conjuring up the claustrophobia and bleakness of Manhattan is a new direction for a band whose earlier videos and songs celebrated the grime and buzz of the city’s nightlife.
In “Heart in a Cage,” leather-jacketed singer Julian Casablancas rolls on the gritty surface of the city streets while anonymous figures and rushing legs swirl past him. Face rubbing against asphalt, teeth clenched, he mumbles, “I’m stuck in a city but I belong in a field.” Cut to shots of wind-blown Albert Hammond Jr., alone, twiddling his Stratocaster miserably in front of a panoramic cityscape.
Drummer Fabrizio Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture are overwhelmed by a horde of winter-jacketed pedestrians who stumble into them and knock up their instruments. Occasionally, one member or the other will appear to be as large as a skyscraper, a concept that seems to have been borrowed from the video for the Rolling Stones’ 1994 “Love is Strong.”
This new video ditches the carefree fun, wit, and danceability that made every MTV-2-watching teen with a guitar dream of hitching to the East Village and enlisting in the band. “I don’t write better when I’m stuck in the ground,” and “All our friends, they’re laughing at us,” are some decidedly unhappy lyrics, particularly so from the newly-married leader of a superstar group whose concerts sell out in eleven minutes.
The Strokes seem to have lost some of the joie de vivre displayed on their 2001 debut “Is This It?” and 2003 follow-up “Room on Fire.” Hopefully, this newfound cynicism is just a passing phase, and their future videos will exhibit the color and energy of the old Strokes we know and love.