Dashboard Confessional is something of a niche act. Most famous for lovelorn ballad “Screaming Infidelities”, Chris Carrabba’s voice has propelled many an emo fan through a tough break-up, but probably not through a lot of workouts. Dashboard’s initial release, The Swiss Army Romance, is best kept on reserve in case of emotional crisis. Nevertheless, nobody does broken-hearted like Carrabba. So even though I’m not broken up with just now, I wanted to like Carrabba’s latest release, Alter The Ending. I really did. And then I pushed play.
“Get Me Right”, the first track, starts out with a promisingly interesting guitar line, but descends quickly into sad and non-complex lyrics. This is exactly the kind of song that non-emo fans tease emo fans about, and the sad thing is, with this track, there’s really nothing the poor emo kid can say in his defense. The second track, “Until Morning”, is more of the same-shallow in the special way that attracts depressed sixteen year olds, who think they’re found the new Beatles. That particular track suffers from an overuse of technology as well, with the concentrated sad rolling off of heavy synth beats and processed percussion, ending on a terrible echo effect. Carrabba’s initial appeal was the gritty realism of some of his earlier tracks, a realism that made it sound as if the album was made with him bawling into a tape recorder in his bedroom that gave his music a special kind of intimacy. That effect is sadly gone here, torpedoed out of the water by overproduction.
“Belle of the Boulevard” is a step back towards the right direction, until it hits the chorus; it starts out quieter, showcasing Carrabba’s vocals, which under everything are really quite lovely. Unfortunately, we hit the chorus again soon enough, which puts us back into sad sugar-pop mode. “Blame it on the Changes” starts out similarly subtly, and has the bonus benefit of relying a bit more on musicality than on production values. This was the first track (out of seven, I might add) that I actually wanted to hear out.
The next offering, “Even Now”, features Carrabba at his best: over a solo guitar, with minimal percussion, and melancholy as anything. Here, at last, is the downbeat poet we came to love once upon a time, for just a moment before track nine takes us straight back to pop-music hell.
It feels bad to be harsh on this music, since it seems like Carrabba and company tried so hard on it. But then again, that seems to be the album’s biggest weakness; the songs feel belabored and overwrought. Carrabba shot to fame singing nakedly over an acoustic guitar, and while I appreciate a musician’s efforts to develop and grow, this particular evolution has not been positive growth. It’d be an improvement to see him shake off the trappings of studio-heavy processing and return to his musical origins. Why fix what wasn’t broken?
“Get It Right”
Alter the Ending