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Dashboard Confessional search for an identity

Liam Farrell | Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Listening to a Dashboard Confessional CD is like reading somebody’s high school diary – you feel a little guilty, yet you can’t really put it down and for some reason you keep coming back for more.

Lead singer Chris Carraba and company are on their way to becoming America’s favorite guilty pleasure on their third full-length album, A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar.

Carraba, who once was a solo act under the band’s name, has enlisted the help of permanent musicians. Although many fans have found this distracting and destructive to the solo heartbreak that was peddled on his first album Swiss Army Romance, production and instrumentation have become increasingly important on later EPs and albums. The label “sell out” is sure to follow him around for awhile, but if nothing else his latest effort is marked by a musical maturity that has been absent on earlier work. The guitar, drums and bass all flow and balance much easier, and a more concrete and resilient sound is produced.

Granted, there was something endearing when Carraba and Dashboard were a single entity. Every song seemed to be written and recorded by a high school kid in his bedroom after getting rejected by a girl he wanted to go to prom with; you could practically hear his mother calling him down for dinner. It was stuff any high school outcast could relate to, and judging by the fanaticism of his fans, feel a part of.

But music careers are in essence about maturation and acceleration. Many of the best songs on A Mark would not fit on earlier works. The organ and loping tempo of the strongest track, “Carve Your Heart Out Yourself,” would have felt bizarre on earlier efforts, as would the haunting and tragic “Ghost of a Good Thing”. Carraba seems to be reaching for more intricate melodies and different avenues to express himself; his chaotic guitar style is still evident, but there is something about it that makes it more background and less noise.

Dashboard fans can take heart, though, that not much has changed with the lyrics. Emo’s answer to Morrissey comes through with more tragedy and broken hearts than a John Hughes’ film, with “Rapid Hope Loss” being the best song about a failed relationship. Occasionally happy moments have the spotlight, like the remade “Hands Down,” which provides lift and spark to the album’s beginning.

It will be interesting to see where Dashboard Confessional takes itself after this effort. Their last album, The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, was better and seemed stronger, perhaps, because it was not caught between past success and the bright future ahead. It is a good album, but ambiguous, because at this point they are still trying to get a handle on an audience.

The last song, “Several Ways To Die Trying,” is either a message to an old lover or their fans. The speaker and his band mates shout and scream, “take notice, take interest, take me with you / but all our fears fall on deaf ears.” Hopefully, Dashboard Confessional will stop listening to their fans and listen to their inner muse, learning lessons from the last stanza of the same song: “tonight, they’re burning the roads they built to lead us to the light / and blinding our hearts with their shining lies / while closing our caskets cold and tight. But I’m dying to live.”

Contact Liam Farrell at lfarrell@nd.edu