September 4, 2003

Dashboard Confessional

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Ever since Dashboard Confessional gave the “who are these guys?” performance-of-the-year on MTV2’s unplugged in 2002, the cult-like following of singer/songwriter Chris Carrabba has grown exponentially. Perhaps the only thing to spread as fast as the band’s popularity is word of an inevitable artistic “sell-out.”

Although A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (the band’s 2nd full-length studio album) has all the signs of Carrabba leaving his roots behind, it would be unfair to throw such a claim at a man who is renowned for loyalty to his fans.

However, Carrabba could not have picked a worse time to prove he can be an upbeat guy. After spending the last three years spilling his broken heart, and having his voice break in sadness during songs, Carrabba is likely to be asked, “Why did you change?” by the teenagers who have found their only solace in sharing his feelings of unrequited love.

This thirteen track release on Vagrant Records does indeed have a much more positive feel. Songs like “Carve Your Heart Out Yourself” frame the girlfriend as the one with misgivings for a change (“There you go with hope again / Oh you’re so sure that I’ll be leaving in the end”). “Rapid Hope Loss,” despite sounding typically-Carrabba shows a resiliency less prominent on recent albums (“Cause now that I can see you, I don’t think you’re worth a second glance”).

But no matter how good a “happy Dashboard song” is, a die-hard fan is always going to prefer a sad one. If anything, this album is a perfect example of the way it’s often good to stick with what you’re best at. For instance, when Metallica recorded with a 50-piece Orchestra on their S&M album, a true fan may have said it was a cool idea, but ultimately wanted to see four people on stage, each with long hair, cut off t-shirts, and not a violin in sight.

Another change that has altered the sound of Dashboard Confessional is that the band is now, in fact, a band. Up until this album, all previous studio recordings — and the majority of performances — have been solo efforts by Carrabba. Not only does a four-piece take away from the intimacy that Carrabba had with his fans, but the sound of a drum beat and numerous guitars simply lends itself to a more buoyant, un-Dashboard mood.

The album’s opener, “Hands Down,” previously recorded on the 2001 So Impossible EP has always been one of Dashboard’s most positive songs and surprisingly is a popular one. However, the full band version sounds more like Sum 41 if you take out the lyrics. In general, a happy Dashboard Confessional song sounds like it could be on the soundtrack to an Olsen twins movie — no matter how good the lyrics are.

Nevertheless, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar is by no means a poor album. All of the songs are still catchy and will undoubtedly be poised on the tongues of his fans after a mere listen or two. It’s just a shame that the album’s best song, “Ghost Of A Good Thing,” is the only moment where both the lyrics and the lonely sound of a single guitar paint a picture of the vulnerable Chris Carrabba millions have grown to love. And though this is not the sell-out that was spoken of, angst-ridden teenagers worldwide will, strangely enough, be hoping their hero has a bad relationship before his next album.

Archived article by Tom Britton