Screaming infidelities – It has been awhile since these lauded and popularized words were first issued from the powerfully expressive voice of Chris Carrabba, lead singer and creator of Dashboard Confessional. Since then, the banner-bearer of the emo genre has enjoyed infinite fame amongst its listeners (as well as periodic attention from the devout sycophants of MTV). Dashboard’s influence can be heard from the big screen (with songs included in the movies “Shrek 2” and “Spiderman 2”) to the small screen (“Scrubs” and “One Tree Hill”) to the hard-hitting gameplay of “Madden NFL 07.”With such popularity institutionalized over the past eight years, it seems as if Dashboard is up against more and more expectations from its fans, which unfortunately, is turning out to be an uphill battle. After four full-length albums and several EPs, the band felt as if it was mentally tiring out. Last year’s “Dusk And Summer” was suffused with the energy of grandiose instrumentation, polished and shined with lucid vocal projections. In other words it was a factory-made product, the likes of which Dashboard fans did not receive well.
With the advent of their fifth full-length album, “The Shade Of Poison Trees,” the band attempts to regress to their once melodic, acoustic and modest roots. The album is an auditory portrait of lyrical minimalism, remarkably simplistic in comparison to its predecessors. “Poison Trees” is no exact facsimile of classical Dashboard, however, for although it does include the same old melodies of successful and lost relationships, it also bears the questions inherent in philosophy.
The title track turns out to be the gem of the album just as “Don’t Wait” carried the torch for “Dusk And Summer.” Though akin, these two songs show deep contrasts. Whereas “Don’t Wait” was a thunderous and loud plea for the person to whom the song is written to do as the title says, “The Shade of Poison Trees” asks the question ‘Is there time/To follow your heart/. Is there time/ To follow just one desire?’-a question following a commandment. It is almost as if Carrabba first knew the answer, but now is unsure- a true regression.
As one listens to the song, (and the album as a whole) it grows more clear what Poison Trees are, and what the shadows they cast represent. Poison Trees are walls. They serve as protection from the daily trouble of life, but at the same time they hinder us; they hold us back. Their protective shade does not allow one to leave its protection thereby limiting our freedom and full potential.
On an equally profound level, the manner in which the actual lyrics are written and played says something about the messages. Track four, “These Bones,” at face value seems lyrically bereft, with nothing to redeem it but catchy guitar rifts, but upon further scrutiny it is possible to see the songs meaning. The song is repetitive and progressively is played faster, suggesting life’s redundancy and way of always seeming to move more quickly, as if time is running out. In this way the song complements the title track aptly.
Not all the tracks however are injected with this type of Neo-Dashboard lyrical implication. Many of the songs take refuge in the old conceptual fortresses of failed relationships. “Little Bombs” is another interrogatory harangue. “The Rush” is a crash course in redundancy, containing about ten words if one were not to count all repeated ones. “Fever Dreams” is of like composition with the addition of the potential of annoyance. “Clean Breaks” begins with an affirmation: “I believe in clean breaks only to be retracted by the song’s end.”
The idea of materialism that takes place as a subplot to Dashboard’s ongoing musical epic is not forgotten in its latest album. The opening track, “Where There’s Gold,” takes a page out of The Book of Kanye by finishing the song’s title within the lyrics with ‘there’s a gold digger.’ To supplement this theme, “Matters of Blood and Connections” shows itself to be a tirade in poetic form, as it derides those spoiled by the ‘sins and schemes’ of the fathers of ‘daughters and sons of the privileged elite’.
“The Shade Of Poison Trees” is an attempt at redemption in itself. Issued only one year after its predecessor, it feels like a scramble to cover up a past folly. At worst, it’s a contributory album to the devolution of Dashboard Confessional. At best, it’s a flailing arm for grip during a fall. The album is tediously kept afloat by the inspiring vocals of lead singer and guitarist, Chris Carrabba as well as by the band’s tremendous fan-base and reputation.
Attempts to recapture the past have historically been reserved only for tragic characters with fantastic mindsets. When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” he showed what an intangible task that was. Perhaps Carrabba didn’t see the irony, or maybe he should have taken his own advice as evidenced in track nine, “I Light My Own Fires Now”, when he wrote: “And all the signs/We should have read/While we ignored the dead/Will haunt us long after the last of us has died.” Through failed attempts to reinvent itself by old invention and by its inability to break free from the expectation that they’ve created, Dashboard Confessional seems as if it is falling prey to the shade of poison trees.
Lugino Patrone is a student at West Chester University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.