Almost nine years after their last release, Dashboard Confessional has finally made a comeback with their newest album Crooked Shadows. Before their hiatus, the band – led by Chris Carrabba – saw huge success, and the kind of huge controversy you only get inside, as they rose with the tide of emo bands in the early 2000s; but like the best bands of that earnest moment in popular music (think of Brand New and Jimmy Eat World), Dashboard was always about more than the emotional self-indulgence and po-faced seriousness that emo was so often tagged with. Their discography has its fair share of melodrama – no-one’s about to accuse “Hands Down,” “Vindicated,” and “The Brilliant Dance” of being cold-hearted – and in hindsight, perhaps a decade-long gap was needed just to recover some energy. Sometime in 2009, after their album Alter the Ending came out, the band almost vanished from mainstream music.
As the emo generation has gotten older, the question they’re asking has changed. Emo kids now have kids themselves, and that process needs a soundtrack; and for Carrabba, the question is even more pressing: what happens when the songs you wrote as a 20-year-old become emblematic of a movement, and then you live 15 years longer? Crooked Shadows is the sound of a band, and a writer, working out what that means, and how you make music after a decade away.
As you might expect, some things have changed, and some have remained the same. The lyrics, for example, where Carrabba once crooned (almost exclusively) about what was happening to “I” and “me,” now see him embracing a more unified “we” and “us”. But losing the self-centredness hasn’t meant losing the sense of drama and import: Crooked Shadows doesn’t lack for emotional bombast. But there’s a new hint of an awkward, hesitant infusion of contemporary pop. The opening number “We Fight” is a punchy reassurance – we’re older, but we’re still the same – that Dashboard isn’t giving up on emo anytime soon, and there’s something unabashed in Carrabba finally embracing his role as the emo Godfather. “There’s still a kid somewhere who needs to hear this” is how the lyrics go, and it’s like a statement of intent; almost paternal, even as it invites cringes with its rawness.
Old-school fans may be disappointed, but that’s the thing about the magic of youth: you have to be young to experience it. With Crooked Shadows there’s something different: the sound of a sincerity that’s bedded in, gotten richer; views and (yes) feelings that are less insecurely held. Dashboard are growing up, but the core of honesty and unapologetic passion – call it mawkishness, it’s probably fair – still brings on a massive case of nostalgia and reminds the audience of everywhere the band has been. It’s not a reinvention, but it’s not a retread, and as always with Dashboard, it rewards close listening.
Photos courtesy of Fueled By Ramen Press