Emo boxing: Dashboard Confessional vs. Say Anything

Two heavyweight emo groups. Two new records. One victor.

PHOTO COURTESY RCA

PHOTO COURTESY RCA

Jay Boller

The matchup: Emo is a dirty, filthy word amongst connoisseurs of âÄúgoodâÄù music, but that doesnâÄôt change the fact that it charts remarkably well. ThatâÄôs either the result of morons blindly forking over dollars (the Owl City business model), or the idea that current No Age listeners are still keen on guilty pleasures they dug in high school. In actuality, itâÄôs probably a combination of both. Regardless, two of the genresâÄô heavyweights, Dashboard Confessional and Say Anything , released new records earlier this month and A&E is staging the worldâÄôs greatest sissy fight to determine which record crowns the king of the wimps. Entering the fight âĦ Dashboard Confessional is the one-time acoustic sob project of Chris Carrabba . Since 2003, the groupâÄôs sound has fleshed out into full rock band territory. A string of gold records later, DashboardâÄôs sixth LP âÄúAlter the EndingâÄù is in this corner wearing slicked-back hair and sleeves of tattoos. Say Anything gained notoriety in the wake of front man Max BemisâÄô mental collapse after the groupâÄôs 2004 breakthrough sophomore LP âÄúâĦ Is a Real Boy.âÄù The follow-up, 2007âÄôs sprawling and inconsistent double LP âÄúIn Defense of the GenreâÄù failed to deliver on the bandâÄôs hype. With their new self-titled LP, the band is again scraping the mainstream fringe. Music: âÄúAlter the EndingâÄù: DashboardâÄôs never taken many chances musically, and this recordâÄôs no exception. The calculated pop-punk explosiveness of the opening track âÄúGet Me RightâÄù is the same formula deployed on 2003âÄôs electric version of âÄúHands DownâÄù âÄî an attempt at âÄúmoving powerâÄù that continues throughout âÄúAlter.âÄù There are sprinklings of piano (âÄúBelle of the BoulevardâÄù), some throwback acoustics (âÄúEven NowâÄù) and even misguided new-wave (âÄúThe MotionsâÄù). For the most part, though, Dashboard comes off like a pop-punk group functioning as a generic pop-rock group for the sake of maturity, with underwhelming results. âÄúSay AnythingâÄù: TheyâÄôll never be mistaken for Ween , but Say Anything is not afraid to genre hop. ThereâÄôre the drum machine/clap-track/strings of âÄúDo Better,âÄù the horny funk of âÄúLess CuteâÄù and a pretty direct theft of The ClashâÄôs âÄúRudy CanâÄôt FailâÄù melody on âÄúI Hate Everyone.âÄù ItâÄôs clear the band isnâÄôt taking itself seriously and the style shifts are sparse enough to function successfully as humorous diversions. The framework of Say Anything is, of course, pop-punk. ItâÄôs tough to call the least cerebral genre on earth brainy, but the bandâÄôs tempo shifts and underlying believability as capable musicians lends the formula some weight. When they avoid the styleâÄôs 4/4 fallbacks, Say Anything can come off downright triumphant as they do on the discâÄôs closer âÄúAhhh âĦ Men.âÄù Vocals/lyrics: âÄúAlter the EndingâÄù: To his credit, Chris Carrabba doesnâÄôt straight-up cry anymore. And thatâÄôs not journalist hyperbole. Remember âÄúThis Bitter PillâÄù? WhatâÄôs left is his trademark high, quivery and achingly earnest delivery. A recordâÄôs worth of pained, stretched pleas gets a bit grating; but after nine years of proven marketability, heâÄôs obviously doing something right. CarrabbaâÄôs insufferable ambiguity continues to dog his songwriting. âÄúI know that yesterday is gone/And it wonâÄôt come back to me/But I miss it/After all/It never really lasts as long,âÄù Carrabba sings on âÄúAlter the EndingâÄù with hard, piercing conviction about, well, nothing. Epic, impassioned delivery needs to be legitimized with equally high-stakes lyrical content. And when your biggest problem is, âÄúWe stayed in the sun too long/Suffered a terrible burn/Now everybody learns from disaster,âÄù as it is on âÄúEverybody Learns from Disaster,âÄù the problems are hard to take seriously. ItâÄôs a damn sun burn, not Hurricane Katrina. âÄúSay AnythingâÄù: Max Bemis is an angry, sarcastic, honest, sensitive mess. His throaty growl wonâÄôt be mistaken for a quality singing voice, but it sounds entirely comfortable shifting from attempted crooning to wild screams. His interlacing of sarcasm and irony into his vocal delivery saves the listener from a constant barrage of dire emotion. BemisâÄô songwriting is not âÄúgoodâÄù in the Tom Waits /Leonard Cohen sense, but it doesnâÄôt strive for that or require it. What sets him apart, at least within the genreâÄôs confines, is his willingness to direct as much loathing outward as inward. Grappling with distaste for society and culture while consistently calling himself on his own B.S. is a convincing and winning ploy, as it is on âÄúI Hate EveryoneâÄù âÄî âÄúIâÄôm mired in hypocrisy/Yeah, IâÄôm still down with J.C./I guess that âÄòeveryoneâÄô includes me/and thatâÄôs why IâÄôm a humanist.âÄù Even though theyâÄôre sweetly convincing, the odes to BemisâÄô new bride like, âÄúI have a total crush on you/baby/and I canâÄôt let it go,âÄù on âÄúCrushâÄôdâÄù are a little schmaltzy. He takes shots at Kings of Leon and former girlfriends, but thereâÄôs a total lack of pretense that salvages even BemisâÄô goofier moments from gimmick territory. Moreover, when he does wax poetic, itâÄôs not always half bad. âÄúThere’s a crack in the edge of the end of the world/Where I will sit with my love in its fluorescent swirl/Eat us up, break it down to the tiniest cell,âÄù BemisâÄô voice strains with complete sincerity on âÄúAhhh âĦ Men.âÄù The decision âĦ âÄúSay AnythingâÄù isnâÄôt perfect. ItâÄôs a solid record with a renewed focus that harkens to the groupâÄôs opus âÄúâĦ Is a Real Boy.âÄù ItâÄôll be remembered as a testament to frontman Max BemisâÄô continuous struggles with living and the bi-polar art that bleeds from it. On âÄúAlter the Ending,âÄù on the other hand, thereâÄôs a band simply clocking it in mid-career. The Dashboard Confessional players are loaded and older, and they apparently felt a collection of lazily penned mid-tempo rockers would suffice. If Carrabba were swapped out for a singer with more restraint, the songs on âÄúAlter the EndingâÄù would feel right at home on any soft rock radio station. This record takes no chances, lacks any dynamism and suffers a knockout blow by Say AnythingâÄôs moody, hilarious and adventurous rocking right hook. Victor: Say Anything