Like it or not, Dashboard Confessional’s music has given its fans a place to drown their teenage angst. Despite this reputation, Dashboard Confessional — with frontman Chris Carrabba leading the way — piqued listeners’ interests by mixing emotional lyrics with soft sound for its first two albums. Then, in 2003, the group burst into the mainstream with the charming album A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar.
And somewhere between that album and its fourth project, Dusk and Summer, something went terribly awry. The band’s sound strayed too far from its roots and the lyrics didn’t hit home. With its fifth album, The Shade of Poison Trees, Dashboard Confessional attempts the tried-and-true method of getting back to basics.
Hands down, the tracks that bring back the most nostalgia are “Thick as Thieves” and “Little Bombs.” The former is the album’s most engaging track; it’s a romantic-with-hints-of-angst song with upbeat guitar riffs and solid lyrics that paint quite the picture: “Would it kill you to breathe easy?/Only 17 miles lay between you and me/I could make it if I had to/I don’t break easily/You’ve got my counsel, thick as thieves.”
Meanwhile, “Little Bombs” is deliciously sardonic yet manages to keep the flow of the album’s maturity. Carrabba lets listeners hear his frustration in his voice; in the second verse, he asks, “How do you deal with the consequence/Now that we’ve felt the weight of your arrogance?/I know you/And your cons, your petty little bombs/But who will you blame your troubles on now?” It’s a lyric that practically drowns you in a kind of biting, witty sarcasm that you don’t hear in songs anymore.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else to enjoy. The song “Matters and Blood and Connection” has great lyrics — “Draw well from the funds in the trust/Thanks to the fathers of fortunate sons…. /For you it’s a matter of blood and connections.” It’s that same biting tone, but in the track, Carrabba’s complaining about snooty rich kids who spoil rock music. Whoops. Hypocrisy never bodes well, no matter how talented you are.
That’s not to say The Shade of Poison Trees is terrible, but it wasn’t the explosive comeback album that this band needs. Overall, the album is fairly short – almost all of its tracks fall below three minutes. The acoustic sounds blend together from track to track, creating music that falls more into the background than a collection that you’ll listen to again and again.
The Shade of Poison Trees is Dashboard Confessional’s way of getting back to basics. But not even that tried-and-true formula seems to work for the band. Although The Shade of Poison Trees redeems Carrabba from the disaster that was Dusk and Summer with a more mature tone and a familiar sound, it simply doesn’t pack the punch of earlier albums.