Perhaps Dashboard Confessional founder/frontman Chris Carrabba should have released his new album, Dusk and Summer, as two five-song EPs instead—because, despite the singer/songwriter’s best efforts to the contrary—that’s exactly what it sounds like.
The first half of Summer is the natural follow-up to D/C’s biggest hit, “Vindicated,” from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 soundtrack; the second half, however, veers into rocky waters. While there isn’t necessarily a bad cut on this entire record, it lacks a cohesiveness and immediacy found in the band’s first three collections.
And maybe that was an inevitable result, given what it took just to get Dusk and Summer out on the shelves. Carrabba wrote and recorded about three albums’ worth of material since 2003’s stellar A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar and worked at length with two vastly different producers, starting with Daniel Lanois (U2) and ending with Don Gilmore (producer of “Vindicated” whose credits include Pearl Jam). Carrabba supposedly had both of them go back and work on each other’s tracks in an attempt to make the final product flow together, but the set feels dominated by Gilmore. The out-of-place industrial beats of album closer “Heaven Here” is about all that remains of Lanois’ contribution.
One thing’s for sure, though: Carrabba doesn’t rest on his laurels. After leaving pop-punkers Further Seems Forever six years ago for the stripped-down, soul-baring acoustic approach of Dashboard’s 2000 debut The Swiss Army Romance, Carrabba has been steadily adding pieces to what began as a one-man band. About half of 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most featured full-band arrangements, while A Mark was a perfect blend of his acoustic and electric sensibilities.
In parts, Dusk and Summer is about as far away as Carrabba can get from Swiss Army. This album brings him full circle, as its muscular Side A is the hardest-rocking music he’s written since leaving Further Seems Forever—the pop-punk powerhouse “Reason to Believe” would fit in nicely with FSF’s 2001 debut The Moon Is Down. It’s an instant hit, notable if for nothing else than Carrabba manages to use the word “capillaries” convincingly throughout.
Opener “Don’t Wait” (also the album’s lead single) is a cousin to “Vindicated” in its mid-tempo stomp, whispered verses and soaring chorus—rekindled subsequently by “The Secret’s in the Telling” and the gorgeous “Stolen.” If Carrabba was looking to find his inner Springsteen or Petty, then these big, sweeping first five songs, capped by the full-throated “Rooftops and Invitations,” certainly fit the bill for arena-ready rock.
But then the album takes a sharp turn with cut No. 6, “So Long, So Long,” a piano-driven pop song featuring a nice cameo from Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz. Released as a free download two years ago from Dashboard’s website, musically this song is unlike anything else in the band’s catalog. Ironically, it features some of the most “classic” Dashboard lyrics on the entire record and is hands down (pardon the pun) the best entry on Side B.
After a thrilling start, the rest of Dusk and Summer is scattershot. “Currents” is a pleasing but uninspired rocker; title cut “Dusk and Summer” is a rather tepid acoustic effort that doesn’t come close to matching the band’s previous successes in this area; and then there’s “Slow Decay” which finds Carrabba adding to the cacophony of recent songs about the war in Iraq. I’m sick of these at this point, but at least Carrabba’s is largely apolitical with his alternately touching and impassioned ode to a soldier struggling to reenter society after returning from the killing fields of war (it’s certainly better than Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust” from last year).
It feels like Carrabba had trouble getting his arms around Dusk and Summer. Now in his early 30s, he must know the breakup angst of his early work won’t fly anymore; yet the pressure of past success must weigh heavily around his neck. Struggling to find a new, more mature voice, here Carrabba vacillates between seize-the-day anthems (“Don’t Wait”), classic love songs (“Stolen”) and laments over missed opportunities (“So Long, So Long”). In some spots, however, the lyrics come off forced or even dull (“Dusk and Summer”), which has never been the case before.
In the end, this album may be a necessary transition for Dashboard Confessional—hopefully the next record will be the one Carrabba was really looking for. So as soul-searching experiments go, he certainly could have done a whole lot worse than the mostly satisfying Dusk and Summer.