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Dashboard Confessional: A Mark • A Mission • A Brand • A Scar

It's hard to separate Chris Carrabba's Dashboard Confessional work from his persona: For all their bright hooks and universal themes of longing and emotional torment, too many of the songs on The Swiss Army Romance and The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most are dragged down by infuriating narcissism and self-righteous victimhood. Carrabba sings with such conviction and heart-on-his-sleeve sincerity that he actually seems strangely prefabricated, appealing as directly as he does to a crowd that gravitates toward idealized outsiders with copious tattoos, pretty faces, perfect hair, and a monomaniacal obsession with feelings. Conveying teen angst in ways only a man a decade beyond his teens could articulate, Carrabba last year released an unforgettably fascinating/creepy MTV Unplugged collection on which his rapt audience sang or shouted along the entire time. Though the singer's worst excesses still periodically bubble to the surface, his band's cumbersomely titled new A Mark * A Mission * A Brand * A Scar dramatically improves on its predecessors, thanks to a much broader array of subject matter and a newfound emphasis on full-band arrangements that strip away–or at least drown out–his penchant for whiny navel-gazing. With so much less emphasis on scolding lovers who've wronged him, Carrabba has room to focus instead on stridently dramatic, ringing rock arrangements that at their best ("Morning Calls," "Bend And Not Break") recall the more uplifting likes of Sunny Day Real Estate. A Mark * A Mission * A Brand * A Scar isn't likely to silence Dashboard Confessional's noisy legion of haters, but it gives them a lot less to work with than they might imagine.


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