The only surprising thing about Christopher Ender Carrabba is that the sweep of history has taken so long to produce him. Sure, there are reasons why high schoolers need Dashboard Confessional, now—the male gaze has been redirected to our navels, swing went out with the ’90s—but kids have wanted someone to fully indulge their reckless, weirdly rock ‘n’ roll crush-out pathos since that Wonder Years kid kissed Winnie. But Simon and Garfunkel were too smarty-pants, plus there was that war on, and James Taylor was too grown-up, plus he was wacked on heroin, which places him closer to Elliott Smith than Chris. And everybody after that was too punk. A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar is the first true teen-folk album ever, except that it’s actually a guitar-bass-drums rock album. And will be remembered as the first platinum emo album.
Although, in fact, Dashboard’s MTV Unplugged V 2.0 was the first platinum emo CD. Except that it’s actually a teen-folk album (bear with me): As they famously do at every D.C. show, the audience sings along like their Make Out Club profiles counted on it. Punk taught us do-it-yourself, but that’s what folk music’s been about since the ’60s. (Possibly even earlier.) Join in, sing it yourself. The only surprising thing about the Unplugged disc is that anyone would want to buy it. As someone with a tenuous hold on “cool,” I would be mortified enough to stand through a show where everyone’s shouting back lyrics like “I’m cuddling close to blankets and sheets.” And I definitely don’t want to hear that at home.
I’d rather, of course, just sing along with Chris myself. Particularly to that blanket-cuddling hit, “Screaming Infidelities” (originally off 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, which, strangely, includes no songs about dark basements with spiders in them). “Screaming Infidelities” was the first song ever about stray hairs—”Your hair is everywhere/screaming infidelities”—but I doubt Chris’s watery eyes can be blamed on a cat allergy.
Chris’s new album is nothing to sneeze at. A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar will be the album of the Indian summer, warm and wistful all the way through. “Hands Down” is so good you could masturbate to it. The song appeared in stiff, almost angry acoustic form on 2001’s So Impossible EP. Here it vibrates with lust and amphetamine melancholy. “Breathe in for luck, breathe in so deep,” Chris sing-songs in puffs, gathering his energy for the pinball shot of the chorus, which explodes with his voice’s keening color bars: “My hopes are so high/that your kiss might kill me/so won’t you kill me?/So I die happy.” Just breathing again, he says, “The words are hushed/let’s not get busted.”
And then: We’ve both been sound asleep. Wake up, little Suzy, and weep. We’re in trouble, deep. “Rapid Hope Loss,” a visit to the confessional, follows “Hands Down.” Chris’s lyrics are as profound and occasionally trite as a Wonder Years voice-over, but all the time he’s spent bonding with his guitar and audience has given him supreme control over his tone. The turning point comes when he sings, ” ‘Cause now that I can see you/I don’t think you’re worth a second glance,” his voice moving swiftly and surely from tender to snarling, dragging regret all the way. Then his wheeling howl of “so much” dwindles into the weary “for all the promises you made.” Four lines figure an entire relationship—even an entire four years, from 14 to 18. For many of his fans, Dashboard Confessional will soon be just a memory. Chris Carrabba wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dashboard Confessional play Roseland September 4 and 5.