“Every album is personal, but as this album was coming together I realised…that ‘personal’ did not necessarily mean ‘mine.’ Suddenly, ‘Me’ became ‘We’ and that realisation was empowering, comforting and terrifying all at once,” says Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba about ‘Crooked Shadows,’ the band’s highly anticipated eighth studio album. But while said realisation might well be a recent one as far as Carrabba is concerned, as far as their fans go, that’s always been the case.
Rising to prominence during the early ‘00s emo boom, Carrabba succeeded in tapping in to a generation of kids on the cusp of adulthood, and for whom every one of life’s peaks and troughs were exacerbated by the emotional hyperbole of adolescence. As a result, much of Carrabba’s lyricism was hinged on heartbreak, yet decorated with moments of soaring optimism, quiet anxiety and above all else, a sense of solidarity that spoke volumes to his audience. And though from the outside Dashboard’s music might well have appeared over-emotional, sentimental, and wracked with teenage angst, those who fell in love with them found catharsis and screen names in equal measure.
Of course, the band’s debut album came almost 18 years ago, and it’s been eight years since their most recent release. Inevitably, like the band themselves, Dashboard’s audience have aged, settled down, and started families. Puberty, and all the highs and lows that come with it, has been and gone; the risk of heartbreak no longer feels as earth-shattering. With that in mind, it’s fitting that ‘Crooked Shadows’ should offer a similar cathartic release, without getting hung up on the teenage angst of earlier releases.
Though written about the music scene in which Carrabba came up, opening number ‘We Fight’ provides a rallying cry to his fans; a conscious shift in pronouns seeing the “I” of previous releases become a unifying “we,” opening the record with a soaring sense of solidarity that establishes itself instantly, and doesn’t relent until the album’s close eight tracks later.
Though the unifying nature of Dashboard Confessional has always stemmed from Carrabba’s ability to lay bare his most intimate thoughts and feelings, and have them resonate with his fans, the spindly acoustic emo of previous releases has here blossomed into stadium-sized anthems. Where 2009’s Butch Walker-produced ‘Alter The Ending’ also offered big production values however, it did so at the expense of its lyrical gravitas. ‘Crooked Shadows,’ on the other hand, strikes the perfect balance between the two. Tracks like ‘About Us’ are as emotionally resonant as they are expansive and bombastic.
Of course, the musical landscape has changed dramatically in the years since Dashboard’s inception; changed further still since the release of ‘Alter the Ending’. Emo kids now are addicted to Xanax instead of Myspace, and the acoustic arena is dominated by the likes of Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift. That in 2018 Chris Carrabba has been able to release a record that not only encapsulates the essence of everything Dashboard Confessional stood and stand for, but does so in a way that feels fresh and contemporary, with just enough nostalgia to keep die-hard fans happy. This is Dashboard Confessional in 2018: still as charming, still as cathartic and ultimately every bit the record you want it to be.
Words: Dave Beech
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