So… you’re no longer an under-20 emo-girl, or, if you’re lucky, never were. You missed SpiderMan 2, you missed MTV unplugged, you missed the performance of all-R.E.M. material. You’ve heard about this whiny band that all the kids like, but couldn’t ever bring yourself to try them out during their commercial heyday – you know, two years ago. You’d like to think you were invincible, but… now you’re still wondering, “so who is this Dashboard Confessional guy, anyway?”
Well, this Dashboard Confessional guy is called Chris Carrabba. And now that some of the hype has died down and there aren’t a million pre-frat-boy guys strumming acoustic guitars on the step of your college dormitory, claiming that Dashboard Confessional is the greatest band you’ve never heard, it’s time to revisit them, and him, and take a look at whether or not they did anything worthy of your attention, teenage girl singalongs on MTV be damned.
Where do you start? I suggest The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, as good a place to start as any in the DC catalog, since it contains a few well-known tunes, some tunes that all of the kids loved, and can be picked up for $5 in the used section of your favorite CD store.
Opening with “The Brilliant Dance,” the record announces itself in the hushed acoustic tones and slightly-whiny, heart on the sleeve vocals that were Carrabba’s stock in trade for much of DC’s early years. It is worth nothing that the band’s/Carrabba’s first release, Swiss Army Romance, was recorded sans band – just the man behind the band and his guitar. However, since the band would grow into the next coming of Journey in the last few years, writing and recording loud, anthemic, and ringing guitar pop/emo rock, it’s good to see the band stripped down, but not completely bare.
This is why “Screaming Infidelities” might have been shocking when the album was released (“Percussion? Oh NO!”). But, with MTV video in tow, soon the teens began discovering what the pre-frat-boys already knew – Carrabba had a way with words, and could put into melodic song all of our worst fears and heartbreaks. By the time “Screaming Infidelities” ends, you’ll be screaming along when Carrabba comes unhinged, singing “your hair is everywhere, screaming infidelities is taking its wear!”
The percussion and other full band amenities actually help this record out a great deal by keeping things from being too samey. The break up the monotonous tone of Carrabba’s strummed guitar and voice that mark and carry every song. Because of the change in occasional pace, “The Best Deceptions” and “Saints and Sailors” stick out from the early songs, and “Again I Go Unnoticed” keeps things interesting in the later stages.
With lyrics like “does he ever get the girl,” and “you can’t fake it hard enough to please,” and lots of talk of letters and being out of touch and out of time, well… sometimes things get a little cringe-worthy. There was a reason all the teens from 2002-2003 loved this band, because this is high-school poetry at its best, or worst, depending on how you see high-school poetry.
The guitar playing is fairly good when it is not folky, such as the innovative open-tuning chord movements in “Screaming Infidelities” and in other places. Some of the more hushed songs, though, feature the more folk-styled angry strumming. His voice varies between very singalongable to screamy whine that most people who hate Dashboard site as the reason that they hate Dashboard. Really tough, this only gets really annoying on “This Bitter Pill,” the closing track.
Still, if you’ve just been dumped or are having one of those rainy days when all the memories come flooding back and a tear slips into your morning coffee, The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most will help get you through your day. It’s a great place to start if you’re interested in the band.
What To Get Next: A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar
Recommended If You Like: The New Amsterdams, The Get Up Kids, acoustic Fall Out Boy or Jimmy Eat World, Elvis Costello, R.E.M.