When last the world heard from Chris Carrabba, the Dashboard Confessional frontman seemed to be transitioning successfully into his mid-30s. He rallied from a comically overproduced full-band stab at adult contemporary (2006’s Dusk And Summer) with a quickly flipped acoustic record (2007’s The Shade Of Poison Trees), and scored return-to-form points for sounding as intimate and earnest as he ever did, plus a wee bit wiser. Thus, one would expect album number six to pick up from there, perhaps meandering over to Nashville, or into the arms of a sensible producer like T-Bone Burnett, in order to really drive home the idea of Carrabba the songwriter. Unfortunately, Alter The Ending nose-dives into the studio of Butch Walker, the man behind Pink’s Funhouse and Weezer’s Raditude, and he comically overproduces the damn thing.
The opener, “Get Me Right,” sounds fine enough as a spit-shined, broad take on Sunny Day Real Estate’s fiercer emo, and the mostly acoustic “Even Now” offers more of what worked well last time: Carrabba’s matured yearning set to light instrumentation, with no fanfare. “Hell On The Throat,” both the album’s closing song and its high-water mark, is spare and genuinely soulful, finding Carrabba in rare form, his voice approximating the frayed croon of Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz over piano, organ, and steel strings. But then there’s the rest of Alter The Ending. There’s that flange-y arena guitar on “Until Morning,” the Casio-cheap keyboard filter that opens “Belle Of The Boulevard,” and the egregiously awful vocal echoes marring the title track. Worse yet, someone had the bright idea to give “Blame It On The Changes” the orchestral treatment, so that timpani drums vainly offer heft to weightless lines like “I lay down, I can’t sleep / My mind runs on repeat.”
But the lyrics aren’t the problem: Production like this could ruin the work of a thousand better artists. Of course, a better artist wouldn’t leave his music alone in a room with a producer who cribs keyboard sounds from Zebrahead records. At least Carrabba, or the label, was smart enough to hedge bets by releasing a deluxe version of Alter The Ending that includes all 12 songs done acoustically.