"Little Boys" stands as a serious contender for the best song of 2005, and for me is surely Devendra Banhart's best ever song. Yes, it's told from the perspective of a paedophile. But just listen to the emotion and empathy he injects into it; this is simply a classic tale of a lonely social outcast grappling with his demons, unable to fully comprehend just why he is so unloved. It's not a million miles away from Radiohead's "Creep", yet the difference is in the subject; the sheer bravery it takes to tackle a subject like this has to be applauded.
The execution, too, is sublime; the song clearly divides itself into two halves, the first of which is fairly vague lyrically, yet undeniably beautiful. Then, just as the bassline introducing the second half of the song gets underway, and the listener is ready to be swept away with the breeze, he drops the bombshell - 'I see so many.....little boys I wanna marry.....' Just about any other artist around right now would make a deliberate attempt here to try and sound disparaging or aggressive, making it clear that they are not themselves a paedophile, nor do they approve of paedophiles themselves. Banhart does neither. His voice is resigned, distant, and imbued with genuine sadness. He could just as easily be singing about a lost love, simply because that's exactly what he IS singing about. You'd think most listeners would run a mile here, but Banhart sings with so much passion that it becomes almost impossible not to feel sympathy. This is the most sublimely twisted character play since Eminem's "Kim", or perhaps even Manic Street Preachers' The Holy Bible
. Yet Banhart does the unthinkable and makes his subject and his art beautiful. This, truly, is what popular music SHOULD be.
Needless to say it casts a pretty long shadow over the rest of Cripple Crow for me. There are other brilliant songs here for sure - "Woman", "Heard Somebody Say", "Now That I Know", "Cripple Crow" - and the songs sung in Spanish ("Inaniel", "Pesando Enti" et al.) are a nice touch, bringing a sense of authenticity and exoticism to the project. Humor abounds, too - "The Beatles" begins with the proclamation 'Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, are the only Beatles in the world'. The slight political edge to the album, a pacifistic streak shown most on "Cripple Crow" and "Heard Somebody Say", makes the album all the more poignant too. The latter in particular is one of the most sensitive songs written about the Iraq conflict.
I heard somebody say
That the war ended today
But everyone knows it's goin' still
Our motherlands and motherseas
Here's what we believe
We don't wanna kill
We don't wanna kill
The album is just too long to be a classic, though. At 22 tracks, it's arguable that it's just too much to take in one sitting for all but the most devoted Banhart fan (which after this album includes me, I have to say). Plenty of the songs hover around the 2 minute mark, but this at times makes it feel a little skittish. Still, it fares far better as a long album than Illinois did.
stands as one of the highlights of a fantastic year, and is Banhart's most adventurous, diverse, and rewarding album yet. Highly recommended.