Related topics

Before Dashboard Confessional’s SLC visit, a look back at its greatest album

November 30, 2017 GMT

I don’t care what Dashboard Confessional does from here on out. They gave us a contemporary pop-rock masterpiece once, and that’s good enough for me.

The veteran alt-rock/emo band, which headlines The Complex on Monday, has a new album called “Crooked Shadows” coming out in February. It’s the band’s first album since 2009. Dashboard’s recently released single, “ We Fight,” is admittedly not great. But, like I said, that’s OK. In 2003 the band released “A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar.”

For those who were impressionable teens in 2003, as I was, the album was definitive.

Revisiting the album recently, I was surprised how good it still sounded — and not just in a nostalgic way. Pop culture artifacts from the early 2000s, especially those adjacent to the era’s emo/pop-punk phase, rarely age well.

While Dashboard Confessional started as a solo venture for frontman Chris Carrabba, “A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar” is the project’s first full-band endeavor, and leverages mature arrangements, honest production and stellar performances. Carrabba wrote the best songs of his career here, and they effectively distance themselves from the gimmicky aspects of early 2000s emo/pop-punk. The album captures young angst and wistfulness in all its romantic glory, but doesn’t necessarily aggrandize it, either. It honors that young passion, and articulates it far more poetically than pop-rock usually does.

The following are my five favorite songs off “A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar.” (Picking just five was tough; the whole album is so strong.)

“Hands Down”: An acoustic version of “Hands Down” was already among Dashboard’s most popular songs before this. The version here, though, takes the cake. It spins the same triumphantly romantic tale as the original, but the acoustic guitars are gone, replaced with incisive, slightly distorted electric guitars, and buoyed by frenetic drums, bass and a much stronger vocal performance. As the album’s first song and lead single, it was the perfect introduction to the new and improved Dashboard Confessional. Poetic pop-rock perfection.

“Bend and Not Break”: Dashboard didn’t abandon acoustic guitars on the album. Rather, they laid a blueprint for how to perfectly blend electrics and acoustics into one blissful whole. “Bend and Not Break” is a shining example.

“Ghost of a Good Thing”: One of the album’s sadder, more stripped-down songs, “Ghost of a Good Thing” builds heartbreak over continuous staccato guitar chords that march forward mournfully. Carrabba does wounded, wistful anger as effectively as anyone.

“Hey Girl”: Most of “A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar” examines the bliss of love attained and the sorrow of love lost. In real life, though, the chase comes first. “Hey Girl” shows how exuberant that chase can be. “Hey girl, you’ve got a smart way about you / That makes me wish that I was smart enough for you,” Carrabba sings at the song’s beginning. We’ve all been there.

“Several Ways to Die Trying”: Man, this song. The album’s final track, “Several Ways to Die Trying” delivers an emotional K.O. It’s a 6-minute crescendo of pure catharsis — a solitary scream into the darkness from a man fearing he’ll never be heard. About that scream: At the song’s apex, Carrabba belts the words “I’m dying to live,” holding that last syllable for a full 15 seconds. It’s a stunning performance of a stunning song.